Can Gulfport survive with one fewer McMansion? Melissa Raulston thinks so.
When she and her husband bought their home last fall, they set their sights on a vacant lot next door that was at the time being purchased by a large home-building company. When their corporate competitor withdrew because of certain City stipulations, they swooped in and bought it.
“We closed the same day,” said Raulston, adding that they had made well-known their desire to have first crack at the property once the previous party was out of the picture.
Anyone who walks by the property today will see a narrow portion of the lot earmarked for entertainment and community interaction. The couple plans to build a regulation-size bocce court on the site.
The purpose of this lot is simple: community.
“We are laying the bricks ourselves,” said Raulston, who hopes to have the project completed in a couple of months. “We want to let everybody play and have a place for the community to gather on a Sunday.”
She has lived all over Florida during her lifetime, but after meeting her now-husband in 2016, they moved to New York City and started a construction business. After her father’s death last summer she told her husband she needed to be back near her mother, who now lives in downtown St. Petersburg. A short time later they bought their little home, built in 1926 (there is a “whites only” covenant on the original deed), and she now works there while her husband commutes to NYC two weeks out of every five.
“My husband, who has never lived outside the metro NYC area, immediately recognized the charm of Gulfport,” she said. “He, like me, loves everything about it — though he does not have a point of reference when I tell him this is one of the last surviving bits of ‘old Florida’ charm left in the area.”
Her memories of “old Florida” are vivid.
Being able to drive down Gulf Boulevard in Clearwater Beach and see the water. Living on Sunset Beach and affording rent on a waitress’s salary. Seeing her former home in Safety Harbor and remembering the neighborhood as it once was, without the so-called McMansions that seem appear on every vacant lot. They are nice and new, but bear no resemblance to the rest of the community.
Ironically, it was the refusal of the company slated to build on the next-door lot to conform to basic City standards that led to this opportunity, Raulston told The Gabber. When informed by City officials of what would be required before construction, such as the demolition of an existing structure on the property line — and the permits and variance required — the firm decided to pass.
As for Raulston, she has far fewer such stipulations with which to contend. Since they are only stacking bricks and not using any mortar, they are not required to go through any permitting process or deal with setback requirements.
The purpose of this lot is simple: community. How serious are they about it?
“We have a mortgage on the house but we paid cash for this lot,” said Raulston. “I don’t want it to ever be built on.”
The idea of preserving this little corner of outdoor space is wonderful for the self-proclaimed Florida girl who loves to sit on her patio all day and watch the lizards and other Gulfport wildlife.
Seeing what has happened in other places like Key West, which became a “destination” and, as a result, saw many of its long-time residents chased away by a too-high cost of living, she struggles when she thinks about Gulfport residents of 50 years or more who have just recently been pushed out under similar circumstances.
“It’s just frustrating,” she said. “What can you do? People buy the houses that are built. I get that it’s your own property and you have a right to do what you want with it, but there’s got to be some guardrails — especially to protect our more vulnerable citizens.”
So this couple will do its part to keep neighbors together on weekend afternoons for a few hours at a time.
“Our whole thing is to be able to partake of that community energy I’ve always loved about Gulfport.”