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Old rules illuminate the past's concerns

South Tampa's original deed restrictions put limits based on race, property value and even chickens.

© St. Petersburg Times
published May 24, 2002

BEACH PARK -- Your guard dog's not doing the trick?

Maybe you need an attack hen, or two or three. But no more than 20.

If you live in Beach Park, your old yellow land deed might limit the number of chickens you can keep in the yard. Forget about putting a pig back there: Beach Park's 1950 deed restrictions barred cattle, goats or hogs.

It may come as a surprise to South Tampa residents who sniff at their anal retentive neighbors to the north. But some of Tampa's oldest neighborhoods were built on antiquated deeds that by today's standards sound absurd -- or even racist.

New Suburb Beautiful, Beach Park and Bayshore Beautiful forbade the sale or rental of homes to African-Americans. Deeds made special allowances for live-in servants.

Legally, the restrictions are worthless, says Mark Straley, a Tampa real estate attorney.

"The U.S. Supreme Court said that racial restrictions prohibiting blacks from living in areas were unenforceable," he says.

Likewise, city codes keep farm animals from overtaking the town.

But the deeds offer a glimpse of how life once was in Tampa.

For instance, in 1940, Bayshore Beautiful decreed that no house should be built for less than $4,000. In 1950, the big spenders of Beach Park set the bar at $7,500.

"I was concerned about the restriction when I bought here because I was only going to spend $7,450," quips radio personality Jack Harris, who built a home in Beach Park in 1994. "But then we decided to put the bathroom in the house."

The restrictions comfort him, though.

"You've got to keep it a classy neighborhood," he says.

For less than $7,500, anyone could erect just about anything, he says.

Or, thanks to inflation, nothing at all.

Real estate attorney Vincent Nuccio points out that deed restrictions remain enforceable only if they are regularly enforced.

Old rules can also be overridden by changing conditions. Such change allows the venerable Donatello's restaurant to continue operating despite a 1920s residential use designation.

Several years ago, Straley represented the buyers of Donatello's, concerned that someone might try to shut the place down.

"The judge obviously understood that Dale Mabry had changed," Straley says.

The judge was, in fact, amused, Straley recalls.

These days, zoning is the tool used to keep businesses out of residential areas.

"When these deed restrictions were first promulgated there was little or no zoning and city codes didn't mean the same that they do today," Straley says.

"They weren't as strict."

Deed restrictions usually have an expiration date.

Margaret Vizzi has been a Beach Park activist for more than 30 years. She's been a member of the umbrella group, Tampa Homeowners-An Association of Neighborhoods, for 15 years.

As far as she knows, the deed restrictions for all South Tampa neighborhoods except Parkland Estates have expired.

"I've never, in all my years of involvement, gone to court to get the deed restrictions upheld,' she says.

Nor has there been a rash of residents campaigning for 21 chickens.

"Our biggest concern now is making sure that people follow the city zoning laws," says Emmy Purcell-Reynolds, president of Beach Park Homeowners Association Inc.

"Some people think that Beach Park has its own set of rules and its own set of deed restrictions and own laws."

But it does. Or did.

Twenty hens, no more.

Sarah Richardson finds the prospect delicious. The Beach Park resident works as an attorney for Pinellas County.

"If things don't work out at my job, I just might need to supplement my income," she says, pondering the egg potential of 20 hens.

"As long as we don't have a rooster, I can't see how the neighbors would complain."

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