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Deal to save landmark elusive

With a prospective buyer in the wings, Dunedin city commissioners have ordered their staff not to issue a demolition permit for the historic Honey House.

Published October 10, 2006

DUNEDIN - With a prospective buyer in the wings, Dunedin city commissioners have ordered their staff not to issue a demolition permit for the historic Honey House.

"We're going to save that house, by God," Mayor Bob Hackworth said during Thursday's commission meeting.

The commission decided to block the demolition permit so the yellow Victorian house could be sold to someone with the means to restore it.

If necessary, the city will put up red flags on the property to ward off work crews that might try to raze the building, City Attorney John Hubbard said.

The 1914 house has raised heated debate in Dunedin since it fell victim to a failed residential and retail project that promised to revamp businesses near Douglas Avenue and Scotland Street.

For more than a year, all that has remained of the Dunedin Station Square project has been a hulking cinderblock tower attached to the Honey House. Many residents consider it an eyesore and a disgrace to the city and regret the ruin of a local landmark.

Sherry-Lee Cook, who lives half a block away from Honey House, told commissioners Thursday she has made repeated offers for the house to the members of Dunedin Station Development LLC, Paul Bakkalapulo and George Karalis. She wants to move the house and restore it herself using her construction and interior decorating background, she said.

But each time she thinks she is making headway with the owners, they make things more complicated, she said.

First, they said they would pay $7,000 of the relocation expenses to anyone who bought the house, but later they told her the option only applied to nonprofit organizations, she said.

The owners rejected her offer to pay $10,000 for the house, and then held off her $50,000 offer for the house by telling her they wanted her to get an appraisal, she said.

Cook, who is retired, has been both a banker and an owner of a construction firm in her life, she said. She renovated the 1919 Joe Jackson house at 1106 Douglas Ave. last year. Her experience makes her an ideal person to take on Honey House, she said.

After hearing Cook's appeal, commissioners united in their disapproval of the owners' actions.

"They paid major lip service to say they wanted to preserve the house," Commissioner Deborah Kynes said, referring to the owners' comments during an earlier commission meeting. Instead, they have stonewalled everyone who has made an offer, she said.

"Sherry-Lee's not the only one," Kynes said.

"This is absolutely outrageous," Hubbard said.

It is in the owners' interest to get rid of the structure as soon as possible, whether by demolishing it or selling it.

Since Oct. 3, they have been getting fined $100 per day from the city's Code Enforcement Board. The fines are for not doing one of two things: removing the eyesore or complying with city-mandated landscaping requirements that would hide it from public view. The requirements included planting 17 to 19 palm trees, converting a parking lot into mulch and sodding extensively.

"They wanted to make it look like a city park," said the owners' lawyer, Michael Boutzoukas. He said his clients are upset that their private decision over what to do with the property has been brought into the public arena. His clients would not comment directly because they have no intention of negotiating in a public venue, he said.

"If they intended on tearing it down, they would have pushed harder to get the demolition permit," said Boutzoukas. He said it would be much less expensive for his clients to just tear the house down.

Dunedin community services director Kevin Campbell said that, as of last Thursday, he could not have issued the demolition permit anyway since the owners had not had the house inspected yet for asbestos contamination.

Boutzoukas said his clients are considering three different offers to move the house, including Cook's. It is a business venture, and it takes time to weigh the options, he said.

Meanwhile, the $100 daily fine continues in spite of the hold on the demolition permit. Hubbard said he thinks the fine should be stopped in light of Thursday's decision, but it is up to the owners to discuss that issue with the Code Enforcement Board.

"We would be more than happy to have that discussion with owners and their lawyer," said Mike Bowman, chairman of the Code Enforcement Board.

For Cook, the city's decision to block the demolition brings some comfort, she said. There will be more time to save the precious Honey House from destruction.

[Last modified October 9, 2006, 23:02:19]

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