Revitalizing West Tampa

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What Turanchik's experience is showing is that Tampa's (and likely many other Bay area cities') building codes and development regulations need to be rewritten to accommodate something other than suburban, cookie-cutter, garage-in-front homes. As Turanchik wrote this week in an e-mail to supporters:

This stuff is not easy to figure out. Current building codes and traditional building methods do not line up with sustainability. However, we think we have figured out how to do it after spending hundreds of hours on it and days at the last International Builder's Show.

What makes the Overlay Committee so disturbing was that people who know little nothing about any of this and the complexities of achieving these goals are given the weight they seemingly are given in this process.

Arbitrary and subjective comments that they don't "like" the design or could we "just change it" belie the complex relationships between heat loading through the roof and windows and vital importance of materials, design and orientation in achieving serious energy savings. The fact that the Committee ignored all such facts and the merits of the designs we put before them, at least in my view, speaks volumes about the integrity of the process and the soundness of the decisions reached by the committee.

In the end, the bottomline is that production of a traditional 1450 square

foot home with 50% energy savings, 3 bedrooms and 2.5 baths with traditional designs priced at $209,000 should be a cause for celebration, not opposition. Assuming that government is serious about green buildings, affordable housing, urban infill, and protecting the environment — which the Iorio Adminstration is as it has demonstrated in the staff support for our petition and City Council follows suit — then we should be on our way to creating an exciting paradigm shift in the heart of old West Tampa.

Expect to see more of these conflicts between neighborhoods that resist moving forward, obsolete building codes and some forward-thinking developers.

Since our offices are in West Tampa, we've taken a special interest in this neighborhood, which has a long and storied history. I even put it on the cover with a story about its revitalization.

It is a hyperlocal story, but West Tampa's rebirth has ramifications for every single neighborhood in Tampa Bay, as well as mass transit. It's because West Tampa is the ideal candidate for regrowth at much higher densities than currently exist, especially along Howard and Armenia avenues, where 3- to 4-story homes could create a very European feel and would be appropriate for making a dense enough neighborhood that could effectively be served by mass transit and light rail.

One of the major players in rebuilding this lower income, racially mixed neighborhhood is former Hillsborough County Commissioner Ed Turanchik, whose InTown Homes is constructing historically appropriate, low-cost housing for residents who agree to live in them for a period of years and not just flip them for a profit, as speculators do in other gentrifying neighborhoods.

Turanchik had run into some trouble in trying to introduce a new, less expensive design and had been rebuffed by the West Tampa Community Development Corp., a nonprofit that acts as a civic association-meets-chamber of commerce. The CDC is dominated by some older neighborhood residents who, frankly, are less ambitious and less aggressive about change. Last week, the CDC voted against Turanchik's plan, a recommendation that then went to City Council.

It looks like, though, the City Council came through and approved the change, which amounts to allowing Turanchik to build a Mediterranean model with a flat roof instead of the historic-overlay-required slanted roof. Bill Sharpe of Sticks of Fire has a good account of the decision here.

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