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Projects forge unlikely friendships

Two planned housing developments in Port Tampa make allies out of neighbors and builders.

© St. Petersburg Times
published February 15, 2002

[Times photo: Stefanie Boyar]
Jill Buford, president of the Civic Association of Port Tampa City, sits with her cat, Pookie, on her front porch.
PORT TAMPA -- Jill Buford stands on the cracked pavement of Richardson Street and revels in a lost wilderness. Under a lone streetlight, she points to her favorite trees. The live oak. The scrub pine. Even the Brazilian Pepper, which grows like crazy.

"There's just big open sky down here," she said.

Chris Kirschner see something distinctly different. Gone is the tangle of trees. Instead, he envisions rows of tidy homes in muted colors with front porches and ribbon driveways. A green park beckons new neighbors.

"I don't know if a development of this size has been done in South Tampa," Kirschner said.

He may be right. His plan to build 87 homes and townhomes on 10 wooded acres in Port Tampa is an ambitious one. And what may be another first is that the developer and the neighbors are getting along.

"We like what they have done," said Buford, president of the Civic Association of Port Tampa City. While approval from the civic association is not necessary, Kirchner and associates from BDG Architects have worked with neighbors for more than a year on the project, listening to concerns and responding to questions. They've even been known to drop in on neighborhood porch parties.

The BDG project is not the only development in this southernmost section of the city. Keystone Homes has plans to build 24 Victorian townhomes at Interbay Boulevard and Manhattan Avenue. Prices start at about $150,000, said Keystone president Wayne McClain. Like Kirschner, McClain attended civic association meetings and talked to residents.

"It's good sign they will be good neighbors," Buford said. "I think both developments will be assets to the community."

The sheer size of the BDG project attracts attention.

"This sounds like one of the largest projects in South Tampa," said Tampa City Council member Bob Buckhorn. "It points out how desirable Port Tampa has become. Port Tampa has been discovered."

"It's very unusual to find 10 acres of land that is still developable," agreed Steve LaBour, president of THAN, an association of Tampa neighborhoods.

Designed as a "neo-traditional" planned community, the homes will be on smaller lots with porches in front and garages in back. Kirschner said the look will resemble Hyde Park, with its many bungalows. Trees will line the winding streets. Neighbors were interested in a park, so developers added one, Kirschner said.

In the future, residents would like another park. They hope the "The Hill," as residents fondly call a closed landfill, will become a public park.

The development meets the goals of the Port Tampa City Planning Board, which is made up of area residents. In a mission statement, the board stressed welcoming newcomers, change and diversity of housing.

"I think it will be great for the neighborhood," said John Feeley, who lives on Richardson at Sparkman Avenue, not far from the proposed project. "There is certainly enough room there."

Although the 10 acres is zoned for residential use, it still must be rezoned for a planned development. Kirschner plans to file a rezoning request with the city next week. The Hillsborough County Planning Commission will also have to review the project to make sure it's consistent with the city's land use plan. Kirschner said he could break ground as soon as this summer.

"It's all very expensive," Kirschner said of the work ahead. "It's like going into the wilderness. This is not an easy one."

To build the project means carving out 10 acres of dense woods, where area teens are known to ride in all terrain vehicles. Two city roads -- Ingraham Street and Shamrock Road -- must be paved and extended. Richardson Street, which is now an asphalt path in places, must be paved. City water and sewer lines must be extended.

"The reward is down the road," Kirschner said. "It's kind of scary."

The reward, he hopes, will come in the form of buyers who want to live in South Tampa. Prices for the houses range from $150,000 to $190,000. Prices for the townhomes range from $120,000 to $170,000. Kirschner may even try to persuade some of Port Tampa's 3,317 residents to buy. According to the 2000 U.S. Census more than half -- 58.6 percent -- own their homes. But 41.4 percent rent and could be potential buyers.

The new development doesn't have a name because Kirschner sees it as an "extension of the community."

"It will be just be Port Tampa," he said.

- Jennifer L. Stevenson can be reached at 226-3405 or at

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