Bubil: On design freedom


I have a lot of respect for people who write letters to the editor. They must sign their own names and not hide behind anonymous initials on a Web page. I salute their courage for putting their names to their opinions.

That is not to say I always agree with those opinions.

A recent Letter to the Editor proposed the idea that in the city of Sarasota, "residents and owners should be given an opportunity for input, including objections, before new construction can begin in their neighborhood."

At issue was the new Guy Peterson-designed house on Prospect Street and Orange Avenue. The letter writer referred to it as "Fort Sarasota."

He wrote that in "many cities" in America, new houses or additions to houses are subject to public hearings before construction can begin.

Is that what we want for Sarasota? "It is absurd," said John Howey, an architect in Tampa. "We have a freedom of choice in this country, and it should extend to property ownership."

And it does, unless the property is in, for example, a deed-restricted neighborhood. Or in Coral Gables (see story on this page), where the city code calls for architectural review and bonuses if buildings are designed with Mediterranean architecture.

In the historic residential district in Punta Gorda, additions, exterior alterations and new houses are reviewed by city staff and approved by the Historic Preservation Advisory Board before a Certificate of Appropriateness can be issued.

That is not to say that getting such a certificate is difficult. The city has a "Design Studio" program so that owners and builders can go over their plans with city staff and tweak them to make the approval process quicker and easier. And, said Punta Gorda builder John Chalifoux, traditional architecture is not mandated.

Many deed-restricted neighborhoods have architectural requirements. The houses must express the same design language. This is where we came up with the term "cookie-cutter."

But buyers there know what is required. They are shown the deed restrictions, or told by their seller about the design mandates. If the would-be buyer does not like them, they have the freedom of choice to buy elsewhere.

In Sarasota's "West of the Trail" area, all manner of architectural styles can be found. As the letter writer pointed out, once the municipal construction codes are met for lot setbacks, height, lot coverage and daylight plane, and a permit issued, construction is approved. Architectural style, tastes or color schemes are not mandated. We have purple and pink and gold and orange houses in Sarasota, and Mediterranean revivals and Spanish-styles and moderns and postmoderns and bungalows and ranches.

Good for us.

Harold Bubil

Recipient of the 2015 Bob Graham Architectural Awareness Award from the American Institute of Architects/Florida-Caribbean, Harold Bubil is real estate editor of the Herald-Tribune Media Group. Born in Newport, R.I., his family moved to Sarasota in 1958. Harold graduated from Sarasota High School in 1970 and the University of Florida in 1974 with a degree in journalism. For the Herald-Tribune, he writes and edits stories about residential real estate, architecture, green building and local development history. He also is a photographer and public speaker. Contact him via email, or at (941) 361-4805.
Last modified: July 23, 2013
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