This old house will have a new use

Officials clear the way for the owner of a 90-year-old house to convert it into an office.

Published July 21, 2007

OLDSMAR - With its upstairs veranda overlooking Park Boulevard and an inviting downstairs porch, the J.H. Thompson home was, no doubt, a beauty in its day.

But 90 years have taken a toll, and now it's an eyesore, an unkempt and tired old creature with noisy pipes, creaky joints and a sagging middle.

The historic home was in the spotlight at Tuesday night's Oldsmar City Council meeting.

A two-hour discussion revolved around whether the council would allow the home's new owner to covert it into an architectural office in a residential district if he refurbished the building.

If the council didn't give him its okay, the house would face an uncertain future, perhaps as a rental property or a perpetual eyesore.

In the end, the council gave the new owner the go-ahead.

The 2,700-square-foot home at 313 Park Blvd. was built in 1918 for Jim Thompson and his family. Thompson was the general manager of Oldsmar, as well as president of the original Oldsmar State Bank. The two-story home features wood floors, 9-foot-high ceilings, a brick fireplace and built-in glass cabinetry.

It's in the midst of the town center residential district, where the city is striving to retain the area's historic look and revitalize the neighborhood. The code permits personal and professional service establishments on certain streets with direct access to a commercial collector street, but only with council approval.

Edward Ruland, 35, bought the home in December for $265,900.

"From the first time I saw it, I knew I wanted to make it a beauty again," he said.

The wood floor is riddled with termite holes, two humongous beehives were removed from the walls, and the floor has to be jacked up because it is settling in the middle. The electrical and plumbing systems and the plaster walls must be replaced. There is no central air conditioning.

Ruland, an Oldsmar resident and architect "with a passion for historic buildings," said he plans to spend $70,000 or more to rehabilitate the home and restore it to its former grandeur.

But for the project to be financially viable, the home would need to have a commercial use, he said. He plans to have an architectural office downstairs, with an upstairs rental apartment.

Ruland's request was denied once already, but he came back with revised plans he hoped would address concerns raised by neighbors.

The plans included reducing the building size by removing an add-on, cutting the number of parking spaces, creating a circular driveway and replacing the decrepit garage with a handicapped parking stall.

It will be a "shining jewel for Oldsmar," Ruland said.

But some neighbors argued that, with plenty of vacant office space on nearby State Street, approving Ruland's plans would open doors to other businesses.

They also worried about who would rent the upstairs apartment and whether the renter would peer out the upstairs windows into other people's back yards.

Allen Clarida, who lives on Fairfield Street, said, "I didn't move here to live next to a business."

Council member Greg Rublee also worried that Park Street, part of which would be cut away to allow for two parking spaces, could become a de-facto parking lot.

Vice Mayor Suzanne Vale was bothered that the owner wouldn't be living on the property.

"If you don't live there, then there's not as much vested interest," she said.

But council member Eric Seidel saw the renovation as valuable to the community.

"If ever there was an ideal set of circumstances, this is it," he said.

The council approved the motion 4 to 1, with Rublee the only no vote.

"I was relieved," Ruland said afterward. "I really felt what I was asking for will enhance the neighborhood and won't have a negative impact. I think this will be a benefit to the community to have this historical house turned into something beautiful once again."

Terri Bryce Reeves can be reached at treeves@tampabay.rr.com