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Council puts front porch revival on back burner

By JUSTIN GEORGE
Published July 14, 2006


TAMPA - Historians think the front porch evolved to provide shade from the heat, but once air conditioning came along, inside was the place to be, especially in Florida.

Tampa City Council member John Dingfelder wants the porch to make a revival. He's seen it come back in New Urbanism developments such as Celebration in Orlando and Westchase Village.

He thinks front porches build communities - "when you sit on the front porch and watch your kids play and wave at your neighbors," he said.

He wants Tampa to encourage builders to construct more front porches, and the City Council discussed a way to do that Thursday but took no action.

Dingfelder likes what he sees in historic Seminole Heights, Hyde Park and St. Petersburg's Historic Old Northeast neighborhoods, places built when front porches prevailed.

But in and around his Palma Ceia Park neighborhood, he's seen old homes replaced by new ones with tiny front porches, barely usable.

He said he asked builders: "Why are you building these meaningless porches?" They told him buyers valued air-conditioned, enclosed space.

Dingfelder wanted Tampa planners to come up with an incentive, and they did. As part of several proposed changes made in the city's zoning code, they included an allowance for an open porch that could extend up to 8 feet into required "setback" space.

Setbacks are typically unbuildable space. Tampa usually requires a 20- to 30-foot setback in front of homes, said Catherine Coyle, city zoning administrator.

"It creates some social space on the street, creates some neighborhood community building opportunities, eyes on the street," said John Norquist, president of the Congress for New Urbanism.

"We love front porches," said Tampa police spokeswoman Laura McElroy, noting that porches encourage people to watch for suspicious cars and people in the neighborhood.

But not everyone liked the porch incentive. A spokeswoman for the Tampa-Hillsborough Association of Neighborhoods worried the allowance might encourage larger homes.

Members fear that those open porches could one day be closed, said Margaret Vizzi of the association.

The Tampa Bay Builders Association said the allowance could increase home costs and impose a feature that some buyers might not like.

Council member Mary Alvarez said she had a home without a front porch and "we survived." She said her kids played away from the street in the back yard, "where they belong."

Some council members saw the allowance as a mandate, but Dingfelder stressed it was an incentive.

In the end, council members voted to delay a decision on the idea for a month.

Justin George can be reached at 813 226-3368 or jgeorge@sptimes.com.

[Last modified July 14, 2006, 05:45:13]


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