A free spirit by nature, Connie Wilhelm-Miller received City of Gulfport approval for her three-story shipping hybrid home this year after two years of variance hearings. The home will include an elevator, winding staircase and elevated crosswalk connecting a mother-in-law suite.
Two years ago, DC-area native Wilhelm-Miller teamed up with poker-faced engineer Buba Barrow to make her plans a reality on her lot at 2931 49th St. S.
“The advantage of this is that it’s hurricane resistant, fire resistant, termite resistant,” Barrow said. “We’re killing less trees, avoiding chemicals.”
If anyone would know it’s Barrow. The Georgia Tech graduate speaks with a heavy African dialect in a way that commands attention. He’s also the engineer behind St. Petersburg’s shipping container home at 15th Ave. S.
After navigating COVID shutdowns and City of Gulfport variance hearings, Barrow Construction finalized a blueprint for a home that blends shipping containers and a brick bungalow unit in the front.
It’s not exactly what the team envisioned.
“Right away, in a December 9, 2020 meeting, they shot me right down,” Wilhelm-Miller said. “When I came here I thought it was a bohemian community that would be open to this.”
Gulfport Community Development Director Fred Metcalf says the plans had to be modified to include a mix of materials other than shipping container metals, not due to the nature of the shipping container home itself, but because of city guidelines.
“It was the second floor … it had to be set back a couple of feet,” Metcalf told the Gabber. “That would be applicable to anything you built.”
The change in plans called for Wilhelm-Miller and Barrow to add a blend of reinforcing brick that “tripled the cost” of construction, they said.
That, with a heavy sprinkle of COVID-related supply issues resulted in a costly project, despite any initial ideas of cost-effective shipping container construction.
“It had nothing to do with the home being made from shipping containers,” Metcalf said. “She may have believed that, and we faced a lot of interface with her and her design team, but we wouldn’t tell anyone ‘no’ as long as they met all applicable codes.”
Regardless, the home will be built with “as much container metal as feasible while keeping within constrictive Gulfport design guidelines,” says Wilhelm-Miller.
The 12-by-14 foot containers [each costing roughly $6,000] once transported materials over the ocean. For the Gulfport homeowner, they represent a new beginning.
“I was dreading coming to Florida … but when I saw this community I was like, sold,” Wilhelm-Miller said.
She moved here for her mother, whom Wilhelm-Miller plans to move into the mother-in-law structure as a sort of ‘family compound.’
As of Dec. 10, the shipping containers are still parked in a Tampa lot, but once they make landfall in Gulfport, the process will take about a year, Barrow estimates.
“It’s been a roller coaster ride, but I am so excited and so grateful to be where I am now,” Wilhelm-Miller said.