HOLMES BEACH – In Ybor City or St. Augustine, where an old building means one that's between 100 and 400 years old, preservationists would laugh at the idea that a 1970s building is historic.
But in Holmes Beach, saving seven duplexes from the 1970s is almost an historic act in itself. Ben and Keren ten Haaf have purchased Sunset Beach apartments on Gulf Drive between 75th and 77th streets and plan to renovate them with Greg Ross, of Ross Built Construction, and architect Emily Ann Smith, Ben ten Haaf said.
"We're definitely not going to tear them down," said ten Haaf, an Ohio resident whose parents live in Holmes Beach. "We really like the feel of the Island."
The complex will be renamed Lizzie Lu's Island Retreat, named for the couple's daughter, he said. The Island has another, unrelated Sunset Beach, a Gulffront condominium.
"I think there's a lot of value in the concrete block ground floor units," ten Haaf said, especially for seniors who are unable to climb stairs.
The one-story duplexes are similar to many that have been demolished in recent years and replaced with three-story, multiple bedroom vacation rentals, most with pools, that have created noise, parking and trash problems for neighbors. Residents have been pouring in to city commission meetings for months asking for help. Commissioners gave reports last week on potential solutions proposed by their ad hoc committees.
"How wonderful," said Holmes Beach Commissioner Jean Peelen, who has been bringing residents' concerns to the commission from her weekly coffee talks. "I am so excited and so happy."
The sale closed a week before the commission is scheduled to hear a report on the tax advantages of preserving ground floor homes from Cathy Slusser, deputy director of Historical Resources for the Manatee County Clerk of Court, and Sissy Quinn, of Anna Maria Island Preservation Trust. The meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, April 24, at 7 p.m. at city hall, 5801 Marina Drive.
One of the reasons the couple purchased the property was to keep the look of old Florida, said Brenda Boyd May, of Boyd Realty, who closed the sale.
"They will fix them up, but keep them the same," she said. "They will preserve what little is left of this Island."
"He does not want to see the high-rise motels," said Mike Norman, whose firm, Mike Norman Realty, has managed the 14-apartment complex for more than 20 years, and is assisting tenants with finding new homes before the end of the year.
The couple has not decided yet whether to continue with long term rentals, ten Haaf said.