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Red tape holds up Lutz log house

Thanks to the hurricanes, a fresh supply of cypress logs will be available when a Clearwater craftsman begins rebuilding a historic log house at Learning Gate Community School in Lutz.

Thanks to a friendly farmer, pairs of young "Cracker cows" will be loaned to the school, for grazing outside the log house.

But thanks to government, everything is on hold.

"I'm looking forward to getting started in earnest on this thing," said Bill Echols, a Clearwater woodworker who plans to rebuild the cross-shaped, 70-year-old house. "It's been hurry up and wait, hurry up and wait."

Echols seems certain to get his wish early this year. But Hillsborough County officials will determine whether that happens in a matter of days _ or a matter of months. They also must decide what building codes apply to a log house being rebuilt as a museum at a school. And they might decide whether the house is rebuilt next to Learning Gate's entrance on Hanna Road or farther into the campus.

"We are teaching all our PE kids to jump through hoops," joked Patti Girard, Learning Gate's principal. "We tell them, "so you'll be good at that when you grow up.' "

Getting the house is a coup for Learning Gate, a county charter school that laces its curriculum with studies of Florida's environment and history.

Girard envisions the house as an emblem of settler days, with calves and a garden outside.

The house was built in the 1930s, on the shore of Lake Byrd off Indian Mound Road 2 miles away. Alex Shaw and his bride, Beatrice, were the owners. The couple had three daughters, then moved to Tallahassee in 1947 when Alex Shaw, a state dairy inspector, was promoted.

The house passed through several owners over the decades. In July, developer Vin Hoover bought it and the 9 acres around it for $1-million. Hoover had won a rezoning ruling the year before that allowed him to build a dozen stately houses. But the county attached a big condition: Hoover couldn't start building the houses until he moved the Shaw house and made it fit for use.

Last spring, county officials decided that dismantling the house and rebuilding elsewhere was acceptable. Workers moved the house's lumber to Learning Gate's wooded campus just before Thanksgiving.

Girard hopes it can be rebuilt in what is now a wooded butterfly garden in front of Learning Gate's administration building. But she had consented to a clearing beyond the school's complex of classrooms.

Several interests are in conflict over that choice.

Hoover favors the rear site because it was pegged for a classroom pod and is zoned for a building. That means only building permits and inspections would stand in the way of Echols quickly starting work.

"With any luck, it could be up by the end of January," said Kirk Lewis, Hoover's building superintendent.

Then Hoover could launch his development on Indian Mound.

On the other hand, Girard and the county's Historic Resources Review Board prefer the butterfly garden, close to Hanna Road, because the cabin would be more visible to the public.

But that requires a zoning change. Learning Gate applied for one several weeks ago. It's to be heard Jan. 28 and decided on in February. Last month, Learning Gate began seeking building permits for that site.

All those questions will be pending in the county's Planning Department sometime this month.

"You're dealing with this many bureaucracies," Echols said. "Everybody wants to get their 2 cents in."

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