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Add smaller cottages to the endangered list

A Pass-a-Grille home tour illustrates the big-house, little-house divide.

By CRISTINA SILVA
Published March 25, 2007


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It was more of a novelty when massive homes first started appearing in Pass-a-Grille two decades ago. Now Sally Yoder cannot return to her childhood neighborhood without watching another beach cottage be replaced by a 30-foot structure.

"They build these massive houses on these tiny little lots," said Yoder, whose family moved to Pass-a-Grille in 1946. "I cringe every time one goes up."

In this quaint artist's village, beach cottages are being replaced by multistory homes.

McMansions, called such for their mass-produced appearance, have sprung up across the county, but to Pass-a-Grille residents, they seem out of place along this thin stretch of land at the southern tip of St. Pete Beach.

Lined with sherbert-colored art galleries, boutiques, and cafes, Pass-a-Grille has traditionally served as a retreat from all things oversized and ubiquitous. It is recognized by the National Register of Historical places for its late 19th and early 20th century architectural styles and is regarded as a prime tourism destination. The district is hugged by Boca Ciega Bay on the east and the Gulf of Mexico on the west, providing visitors and residents alike with quick access to the waterfront.

But in recent years, many of the area's aging homes have been replaced with huge stilted structures or others resting on top of massive garages.

Flood insurance guidelines require homes to sit a certain number of feet above so-called base flood elevation, so architects have no choice but to go up.

The end result is houses that tend to look like small apartment buildings, residents say.

"Basically what is happening is more money is coming to that area and as more money comes in, they want to have all the new amenities, which is more square footage, new kitchens, and new bathrooms, and to do that the only way to do that is to build bigger structures," said Bill Knepper, a broker associate who handles properties in Pass-a-Grille.

Residents are split over whether these new wealthy neighbors are a positive change or not, Knepper said. "People that have been there for a long time are really discouraged by the newer people coming in, and more open-minded people are more accepting of it," he said.

Yoder, who volunteers at the Gulf Beach Historical Museum and runs the beach publication Tropical Views, said many historical Pass-a-Grille homes have flawed electrical wiring or are no longer structurally sound.

New owners have little choice but to rebuild the properties, but the decision to supersize the property or simply construct a traditional beach cottage is personal, she said. "Pretty soon it is going to be wall-to-wall three-story homes," she said.

The area's ever-changing architectural style was apparent during the Pass-a-Grille Women's Club home tour fundraiser Sunday. More than 850 curious onlookers crowded into five local homes, including a mix of multistory and single-floor residences.

Roger Rovell's home on 23rd Avenue was among the most popular. A chocolate and creme colored three-story building, it has large windows and sweeping balconies outfitted with chrome ceiling fans.

When Rovell moved in 1999, he leveled the 1,100-square-foot home on the property and asked his architect to design a new house comparable to the value of the land.

He also wanted the property to be visually appealing so his neighbors wouldn't complain. "I wanted it to be something that looked like it would belong. Not everyone may think that but I can't help that."

Like Rovell's house, many of Pass-a-Grille's larger homes were designed to camouflage first-story garages with sweeping staircases and lavish landscaping, but underneath it all, it is still a home sitting on a parking area, residents say.

"Unfortunately, so many of them look like boxes," said Frank Hurley, a member of St. Pete Beach's historic preservation board and Pass-a-Grille's unofficial historian. "The present trend is that the typical Pass-a-Grille home will be a big, boxy house with a minimum amount of ground around it."

Cristina Silva can be reached at 727 893-8846 or csilva@sptimes.com.

[Last modified March 24, 2007, 20:33:36]


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