Small lots inspire big plans
The historic-looking new homes in West Tampa offer affordable prices, well-designed floor plans and proximity to work and play.
By ELIZABETH BETTENDORF
Published September 30, 2006
The row of cottages might have stepped out of the late 19th century. Mint-green, apricot and yellow, they offer graceful front porches and plenty of nostalgic style.
They are nestled along a sleepy street in one of Tampa's oldest neighborhoods, where cigarmakers from Cuba and Key West made their homes more than a century ago.
The neighborhood retains its historic feel: Corner groceries abound, and an old cigar factory, converted to artists' studios and offices, stands across the street.
What's unique about these homes is that they are new, an experiment in what the builder is calling "reasonably" affordable single-family housing with prices that range from $180,000 to $249,000.
The cottages are available only to buyers who intend to live there, not to investors, a rule that will be enforced with an arsenal of legal weapons, said Ed Turanchik, whose company, InTown Homes, is building primarily in an eight-block area of West Tampa designated as a National Historic District.
"We're building homes to reflect the history and tradition of the neighborhood while using contemporary materials," Turanchik said last week at a meeting in one of his model homes known as the Double Gallery, a 1,460-square-foot, two-story home with upstairs and downstairs porches and thoughtfully designed rooms that make it feel bigger than it is.
Turanchik is best known for his attempt to bring the 2012 Olympics to Tampa, an eight-year stretch as a Hillsborough County Commissioner and a noteworthy-but-failed effort to redevelop Central Park, a public housing development on the north end of downtown Tampa.
He partnered on the West Tampa project with his sister-in-law, Teresa Caddick. The pair joined forces with GTE and Suncoast Schools federal credit unions, who "helped with financing for our business as well as strong mortgage products for our new home buyers," Turanchik said.
With tight city lots, the pair wanted only the exteriors of the homes to resemble the historic shotgun-style architecture of the neighborhood. So they deliberately chose an architectural firm with a great reputation for making the most of small interiors.
"We knew what we wanted the outside to look like, but because the houses are on such small lots we wanted them to feel spacious and modern on the inside with every space utilized," he said.
The architectural firm, BSB Design, a prominent Des Moines, Iowa, firm with regional offices in Florida, created the Double Gallery (1,459 square feet, $249,000) as well as the Bungalow, the most affordable of the three models (1,330 square feet, $180,000).
A third model, the Camelback (1,409 square feet, $226,000), was designed by Tampa architect Franklin Sebastian, who lives in the West Tampa neighborhood.
When the project is completed, 80 such houses will stand on the neighborhood's traditional deep-and-narrow homesites. Twenty homes are under construction; two have been finished. Of those, all have been sold, mostly to a cadre of 20- and 30-something working professionals that include teachers, computer professionals, writers, artists, a lawyer, a marketing rep and a fledgling architect. Another 55 homes will be built when buyers sign contracts.
"Affordable housing is a huge issue in Hillsborough County," Turanchik said. "Look at the census numbers: 24 percent of households make between $50,000 and $74,000 a year. Half of the households in Hillsborough County make less than $50,000 a year and cannot afford the median price of a new home," about $235,000.
The InTown homes cannot be purchased as investments and must be lived in for three years. It's a stipulation that is covered both in the contract and in an agreement with InTown, which maintains the right of first refusal at a predetermined price should the buyer sell before the three years are up.
The homes have intrinsic value to working families because of their proximity to nearby expensive historic neighborhoods as well as downtown Tampa and the heavily commercial West Shore district.
The developers have placed income limits on the lowest-priced of the three models, the Bungalow. Buyers' incomes may not exceed 120 percent of the area median income, which ranges from $45,720 for a single homeowner to $65,560 for a family of four, according to Tampa's Office of Housing and Community Development.
As for the possibility that the neighborhood will become an enclave of the rich, Turanchik said:
"I think ultimately the size of the lots will limit that. These are small houses on small lots and there's only so much you can do with that. I suspect this will always be an affordable neighborhood because of the size."
Even if prices eventually soared to $300 a square foot, "which is totally conceivable," he said, the most a house will ever fetch is about $300,000.
The neighborhood's history traces its lineage to Hugh C. Macfarlane, a city attorney who bought 200 acres of land and built a cigar factory in the 1880s and later a steel bridge across the Hillsborough River.
Established as a city in 1895, West Tampa eventually grew to include 13 cigar factories and a bustling population. It was annexed by Tampa in 1925.
Between 1970 and 1990 it lost 37 percent of its population, said Turanchik, who culled the numbers from specific census tract data in the old West Tampa historic district.
The area is again becoming an enticing place to live because of its central location and inherent character that many New Urbanist communities can only imitate.
"We think we can provide homes that are (economically) attainable, close to jobs and important to the community," Turanchik said. He wasn't interested in building in the far-flung suburbs, he said, "because this is my moral ground." Turanchik also said he thought long commutes are hard on families.
By building in an existing neighborhood, close to downtown Tampa, Teresa Caddick said, they were helping improve upon a good urban neighborhood - in a sense "recycling" what is already there.
"We are strong environmentalists and we like the type of people who are interested in living in the city," she said. "People can survive (without a car) in this neighborhood. They can walk or take the bus."
Jerel McCants, a 33-year-old architect intern and project coordinator who recently moved to Tampa from Atlanta, paid about $165,000 preconstruction in January for the Bungalow model (the price has since increased). He moved in two weeks ago.
It was all he could afford.
McCants started looking for a home in spring 2005 "when prices were super high and increasing," he said. "I was worried and trying to get something as soon as I could."
He looked in the Citrus Park area as well as Pasco County, and though he remembered and liked the areas from his days at the University of South Florida, the long commute to the South Tampa architectural firm where he works was reminiscent of his onerous daily drive in Atlanta.
He met with Turanchik after hearing about the project from a colleague. He bought his house sight unseen, even before the model homes were finished.
"I decided to go ahead after meeting Ed and speaking with him. I could see he believed in what he was trying to do," he said.
His commute now?
"It's 3 miles," he said. "I can be at work in five to eight minutes."
Tampa Bay freelance writer Elizabeth Bettendorf, who writes on topics related to housing and design, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the homes
InTown models range in price from $180,000 to $249,000. And from 1,330 to 1,460 in square feet.
How to visit
Models are at 2008, 2012 and 2014 N Albany, between Spruce and Walnut streets off Howard Avenue, Tampa map, 5F. Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. Sunday.
More information: (813) 253-0050, www.intownhomes.us/intown.html