The Western Front

Is it time for West Tampa?

Page 2 of 5

"We do not want to be run out of our neighborhood," she said. "I don't have a for sale sign on my property. I don't know why they keep on asking us to sell our property. Where are we going? We don't have no place to go.

"We're here. We've been here," she said. "Therefore, these investors that are coming in have to dance a little bit to our music."

That attitude frustrates some in West Tampa, developers and urban visionaries alike. But it's not as frustrating as the remarkable amount of regulatory hoops they have to jump through to build something new or start a business. The city allows for the opportunity for change in West Tampa, on one hand, while putting numerous obstacles in its path — for instance, giving unusually strong oversight authority to neighborhood residents through what is called an "overlay" district that calls for tough design and construction standards. An informal Overlay Committee of those residents meets to discuss new projects, and its clout with Tampa City Council is strong, if not specifically grounded in law.

Critics of the city and Mayor Pam Iorio say the bureaucracy that has been created for West Tampa is such that only the biggest and best-financed projects can occur, and even those are delayed for months or years by the hoop-jumping process. Those critics only speak on background, however, for fear that their project will be sidelined because of their comments. They say it would take a grander vision on Iorio's part and some serious streamlining of red tape to take advantage of West Tampa's full opportunities as an urban model.

Others, like Turanchik, say Iorio has been very supportive of growth in West Tampa. She meets monthly with the West Tampa Community Development Corp., which is widely credited with bringing the many diverse interests in West Tampa to the same table to discuss change. And it was Iorio who then asked the Planning Commission to get involved in helping shape an economic future for the neighborhood, a process that has brought together dozens of residents and business owners in West Tampa to provide solutions for zoning, business development, transportation and culture.

click to enlarge PIONEERING: Jerel McCants stands in the doorway of the InTown Homes model that he is buying, the first customer for the innovative project. - Wayne Garcia
Wayne Garcia
PIONEERING: Jerel McCants stands in the doorway of the InTown Homes model that he is buying, the first customer for the innovative project.

This isn't the first time Turanchik has laid out ambitious plans for a city neighborhood; he famously failed with the Civitas project, which was intended to transform downtown's public housing projects through the "new urbanism." He's now narrowed his scope to a few blocks in West Tampa. One-third of its properties are vacant, and another third are owned by landlords, many of whom don't keep their houses up to snuff. With his partner Teresa Caddick, he formed InTown Homes.

With financing from two credit unions, GTE and Suncoast Schools, InTown began to assemble vacant lots. It got 23 of them from the city for $312,000. Turanchik worked for a year and a half to rezone 67 lots in West Tampa to allow for construction.

His biggest obstacle was Tampa's antiquated zoning laws, which were designed for suburban construction, not urban challenges. He wanted the city to allow him to recreate the neighborhood exactly as it was in 1931. Just a week before his project launches, Turanchik unrolls a plat map from that year for a visitor to his office, showing how densely packed the neighborhood was, as much as 13 units per acre — the same density as exists on Harbour Island in downtown Tampa. He convinced city officials that the historic patterns of growth were better than the current suburban-oriented rules. That means no garages in the front of homes, closer construction to lot lines, mandatory front porches, and houses set nearer to the sidewalk.

The three houses he will build — each represented by the models opening Friday — range between $164,000 and $239,000 and are designed to blend in with the neighborhood's other historic homes.

But this is not your normal new home sales operation.

click to enlarge BEFORE & AFTER? Howard Avenue north of Main as it looks today... - Courtesy Of Jason Busto
Courtesy Of Jason Busto
BEFORE & AFTER? Howard Avenue north of Main as it looks today...

Turanchik will not sell to investors or speculators. The homes are one to a customer. He won't give real estate brokers commissions (to keep the prices down). By contract, new homeowners must live in the houses for at least three years because Turanchik wants "stakeholders" in the success of West Tampa and not transient homeowners. And most remarkably, a buyer's income has to fall below certain levels to qualify, ensuring that West Tampa's working-class atmosphere is maintained. You can't make more than $43,000 if you want to buy his 1,405-square-foot "Bungalow" model.

InTown has approval for 67 new homes, and will likely seek another 25 or more soon. Turanchik said the project is on a large scale because it will take "critical mass" to turn West Tampa's cycle of poverty and neglect around.

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