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Dream homes change look of waterfront

Published Sep. 29, 2005

Ranch homes on gulf-front lots in Dunedin are being torn down and replaced with larger, more expensive houses.

Towering above modest 1950s and 1960s ranch houses on the waterfront in Harbor View Villas is an elegant, three-story, custom-built mansion that, at least for the moment, is dramatically out of place.

This new home of a surgeon and his family is the most conspicuous symbol of a redevelopment trend that has already begun in two other Dunedin waterfront neighborhoods _ Dunedin Isles and Baywood Shores _ and is now taking hold in Harbor View Villas.

Young doctors, lawyers and business executives are paying $200,000 and up for coveted waterfront properties, demolishing the houses and building their dream homes.

Many predict that the house is the first of many large new homes that will rise on Harbor View Drive, as they have along Santa Barbara and Buena Vista drives and Baywood Drive W.

"It's a prelude to the future," said Dr. Sang Choi, 38, of the 12-room, eight-bathroom house on Harbor View Drive, which he is moving into this weekend with his wife, Kelly, and three children. "It's inevitable. You get waterfront property with a beautiful view and people aren't going to keep it as one-story winter homes."

Real estate broker Debbie Garrigan, who specializes in waterfront sales, said she has a waiting list of buyers looking for Dunedin property with a gulf view. Many, she said, don't care what sort of house is on the property because they intend to tear it down and build their own.

"It's one of the biggest markets in the waterfront now," Garrigan said. "I have buyers waiting on Santa Barbara and Buena Vista that basically have their checkbooks open. If we get a hold of some, it will basically be a bidding war."

Dunedin Isles _ as the Santa Barbara and Buena Vista neighborhood is known _ was first developed during a building boom in the 1920s. It has especially large lots for waterfront properties, a feature that drives up prices, which are now fast approaching the million-dollar mark.

"People think they can buy houses on Santa Barbara for tear-down for $250,000 or $300,000, but there are people who will pay $600,000 or $700,000," Garrigan said. "It's not a shock to see $500,000, $600,000 homes being torn down.'

One 2,900-square-foot waterfront house recently sold for $709,000, and Garrigan said while the new owner intends to keep the house, at least half of those who looked at it were thinking of tearing it down. Real estate agent Donna Green said last week she is negotiating a $500,000 waterfront sale on Santa Barbara with a buyer who intends to tear down the house.

For the city, Dunedin Community Service Director Kevin Campbell said, the redevelopment means more tax dollars. But he also said the city must be mindful of maintaining a balance of low, moderate and high-income housing.

Not everyone in the buying mode chooses to demolish the existing house, even if they want to rebuild. Investment adviser Lee McCauley lived in Countryside for 10 years and watched the waterfront in Dunedin Isles for almost two years. The day after he saw a for-sale sign go up on a three-quarter-acre waterfront lot at 171 Buena Vista five years ago, he called the real estate agent. They closed on the house within a day.

"They were asking $349,000 for the house and the lot," McCauley said. "There was no negotiation. I just paid it. I was told they had eight backup offers on the house."

McCauley and his wife, Shirlee, however, felt the existing four-bedroom house was too nice to tear down, so they donated it to the Florida Sheriff's Youth Ranch and paid to have it moved to Enterprise Road. They built one of the most impressive houses in the neighborhood, assessed for tax purposes at $950,000.

Redevelopment such as this has been happening for years at Belleair Bluffs, Island Estates and Clearwater Beach. More recently it has begun in Ozona and Crystal Beach.

In Dunedin, it started in 1993 after the No-Name Storm hit, said Campbell, who oversees Dunedin's planning and building departments. The storm did serious damage to a string of small waterfront houses sitting on low-lying land in Baywood Shores. After the storm, the homeowners rebuilt much larger houses. They were built on stilts, as required under new building regulations.

The original houses in Baywood Shores were built in the mid-1950s, around the same time Harbor View Villas was developed and the neighborhoods have similar characters.

Today, Baywood Shores offers a glimpse of Harbor View's future. On the waterfront, it is the few one-story houses that look out of place among the large houses.

Countryside podiatrist Bruce Levine last week demolished a 2,300-square-foot house at 2402 Baywood Drive W, property that cost him $280,000. The 37-year-old doctor and his wife, Joan, are building a 3,500-square-foot Mediterranean style house on stilts. Like the Chois, Levine said he wanted waterfront property that had deep-water boat access. And like the Chois, Levine said the house he is building is his dream home.

"I always wanted to live on the water," Levine said. "Every year we looked and we were never able to find anything. This house was available, so we jumped on it."

As the Chois have discovered, the redevelopment can be difficult for neighbors when it first begins. Campbell said he heard complaints about the size of the Chois' house.

"The people who have lived there a long time see the increased values as having to pay more taxes," Campbell said. "They also think about things like, "You're blocking my sunlight.' It increases property values to the neighbors but it does have a visual impact."

Leonard and Caroline Kilbourne live next door to a mansion on Santa Barbara Drive and hated to see the old house demolished. The new house, Kilbourne said, "I don't mind saying I'm not happy with. It doesn't fit with the neighborhood. I watched him just run a bulldozer through there and put up this monstrosity."

In Harbor View Villas, Ed Abernathy said while the Chois' new house is beautiful, "I'm glad it's not across the street."

Choi said he knows his house stands out in the neighborhood _ he and his wife have lived in Harbor View Villas for years, just a few doors down from their new house. It is an attachment to the neighborhood that made them want to build there. He acknowledges the concerns of his neighbors but said he believes his house will have a positive impact on their property values.

Experts predit he is right.

"Harbor View is just starting, it's just the very beginning stage," said waterfront property appraiser Cherie Monarch. "It's definitely a good thing when it starts a trend toward redevelopment. . . . It drives the values up exponentially, very quickly."