An "historic" fight in Hampton Terrace

It's preservation vs. property rights in Seminole Heights.

click to enlarge These historic bungalows, owned by some of the first Hampton Terrace residents, would be included in the proposed local historic district. - Alex Pickett
Alex Pickett
These historic bungalows, owned by some of the first Hampton Terrace residents, would be included in the proposed local historic district.

Anne McDonald is visibly excited as she drives through her Hampton Terrace neighborhood, pointing out some of the area's 350 historic homes. Classic 80-year-old bungalows. Depression-era pattern-book cottages. A few rare Mission-style structures. She tells stories about the 1940s concrete block homes that housed military personnel during WWII, and laughs when mentioning Roberta Lake's history as a "lovers' lane." She stops in front of a colorful bungalow on 12th Street, and points out that it's only three years old.

"Luckily, so far, we've had infill buildings that look as though they were in the neighborhood for a long, long time," she says.

But McDonald's fear, shared by other Hampton Terrace residents, is that not every homeowner will be as scrupulous. Even though the neighborhood received National Historic Designation nine years ago, that distinction gives no real protection for new construction. McDonald, a longtime preservationist and history buff, says only a local historical designation will protect Hampton Terrace, a part of Old Seminole Heights bounded by Hillsborough, Hanna and Nebraska avenues and 15th Street.

"I've lived here long enough to see what has happened to South Tampa," says McDonald, who moved to Hampton Terrace four years ago. "It's the same old song: You have to preserve the history and know where you came from or you won't know where you're going."

So, for the last two years, McDonald and an all-volunteer preservation committee have gathered information on the area's historical significance, which they'll present to the city for final approval. But the process has led to anything but a consensus.

Over the last year, a small cadre of Hampton Terrace homeowners has loudly objected to the historical designation. They talk of tough restrictions on simple tasks like replacing windows. They argue over a lack of transparency. They tell horror stories about the Architectural Review Commission charged with approving changes to structures in historic districts. They campaign on property rights.

At the local Starbucks (which waged its own fight against the ARC before opening) three of the more prominent critics drink coffee and rail against the proposed ordinance.

There's Wesley Warren, who has lived in Hampton Terrace for more than 40 years; Gail Davis, 23-year resident and co-owner of a boat repair shop near Hillsborough; and Nancy Walsh, who moved here in 1997 and also owns a nearby business. They're not bad people, they insist. They love puppies, kittens ... and historic preservation.

"I'm all for historic preservation," Warren says. "I'm not all for forced historic preservation."

Last year, they formed the Hampton Terrace Property Rights Organization. In recent months, they've sent out letters to residents about the drawbacks of local historical designation, gone door-to-door to recruit residents and circulated petitions.

This hasn't made them many friends.

"Unfortunately, the neighborhood has been divided over this," Walsh says. "The people are so angry. The people who are pro-historic district are very, very angry at us for stopping their plans."

It's true: Ask any of those supporting the historic district about HTPRO and you can hear their frustration.

"This is not a process that has been ... behind anyone's back," McDonald says, her eyes narrowing at the mention of HTPRO. "There has always been a discussion that hopefully one day Hampton Terrace would [get local historic designation]. But instead of allowing us to gather the information and draft a set of guidelines, they want it stopped."

And as the process nears a close — the committee will present its finding to the city next year — rhetoric on both sides is heating up.

The HTPRO folks maintain the process was sullied from the start. A vote of the whole neighborhood should've been taken, they contend, before setting into motion plans for a historic district.

"There is no one-on-one vote," Davis says. "There never was. There never will be."

McDonald says a vote is premature.

"I don't think a resident can make an informed decision until they know what is entailed," she says. Once the volunteer committee is finished with its paperwork proving the existence of a significant number of historical buildings, city officials will take over, holding meetings and gathering input.

Dennis Fernandez, Tampa's historical preservation manager, says that is standard practice for designating local historic districts. Hyde Park, Ybor City, Tampa Heights and Seminole Heights went through the same process, he says.

"The preservation ordinances don't necessarily call for a straw vote of sorts," he says.

But the real contention is preservation versus property rights.

"LHD is a planning tool to be used for neighborhoods," he says. "It enables a participation into the development of the area. So in order to get that control you have to lose some control of your own property."

HTPRO says the designation would govern replacing windows and painting houses. The pro-historic district folks say homeowners would need to get approval only when they require a building permit.

Neither of which is entirely true.

Fernandez says the final preservation ordinance depends on the guidelines set by the community.

"For some things in Hyde Park you need a certificate of appropriateness," he explains. "For example, a fence. It doesn't require a building permit, but it does require a certificate. But if Hampton Terrace doesn't want that in their guidelines, they don't have to have it."

A preservation ordinance would have no impact on landscaping, yard elements or color of the homes, he adds, although it may cover windows.

But at the local Starbucks, those opposing the historic district remain wary.

"If the neighborhood truly wants this as a whole, we'll go along with that," Walsh says.

Warren interrupts: "Oh, not me. Nobody can force me. Even in a democracy, we have certain unalienable rights like property rights."

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