Residents spar over historic district

Some residents of Sparkman Street in Port Tampa fear they would involuntarily be part of a possible historic designation.

Published December 9, 2005

On a single block of Sparkman Street in Port Tampa sit five historic houses, including the former home of one of the neighborhood's first mayors and a house that supposedly has acentury-old ghost.

Sensing encroaching development, several property owners on Sparkman, between Prescott and Lancaster streets, want to freeze their homes in time. They hope obtaining a local historic designation will help preserve their century-old properties.

But the would-be preservationists have already met resistance from other homeowners.

At a meeting of the Civic Association of Port Tampa last month, about 40 homeowners showed up to hear a presentation from city historic preservation officials. The officials, including historic preservation manager Dennis Fernandez, shared general information about the landmark and historic designation process.

Some residents balked at what they feared could easily become involuntary inclusion in a proposed district. Distrust in this neighborhood, apparently, runs deep. Many of the homeowners are still bitter about Port Tampa City annexing into the city of Tampa in 1961.

"I don't think they have a problem with an individual wanting to have their home declared a historic property," said Jill Buford, president of the Civic Association of Port Tampa City. "The deal breaker is when someone who doesn't want to be in a historic district is forced into that."

Sparkman Street homeowners say interfering with others' property rights was never their intent.

The push for historic preservation started earlier this year, shortly after Dan and Sharon Stein purchased a Georgian revival home in the 6800 block of Sparkman. The Steins' decision to pursue a historic designation for their house sparked interest among other property owners. Soon, there was talk of preserving the entire block.

Todd Lazar, whose two-story Cracker-style house borders the Steins', said he wants to preserve the neighborhood's character.

"I have the option of declaring my own personal house historic, but that doesn't get us any protection of how the neighborhood would end up looking," said Lazar, 38.

"We just don't want to turn into a super-mega area. I'm afraid without a plan in place that everything will start looking like that, with every house 10 feet apart because that maximizes profit."

Trish and Greg Morrison, who live across the street from Lazar, support preservation efforts as long as the larger neighborhood approves.

"We were looking to preserve the homes on our street because we do have the largest concentration of historic homes," said Trish Morrison, a real estate appraiser. "Nobody was looking to see the whole city designated unless that's what the community wants."

Sparkman Street property owners said the last thing they want to do is pick a fight with the greater Port Tampa community. If there is overwhelming opposition to their efforts, the homeowners might choose to pursue individual historic designations. At this point, they are still in the exploratory stages, the homeowners said.

"All we can say is when the smoke clears, if the remaining structures disappear, at least we did our best," Stein said.

- Sherri Day can be reached at sday@sptimes.com or 813 226-3405.