Gulfport Woman Saves Lots of Florida Developers

Melissa Rawlston and her husband purchased a plot of land nearby so it wouldn’t become a “McMansion”. They are building a bocce court in the neighborhood and say they don’t want to develop the property – ever.
Monroe Rourke

Can Gulfport stay with McMansion one less? Melissa Rawlston thinks so.

When she and her husband bought their home last fall, they set their sights on a nearby vacant lot that was being purchased at the time by a large home builder. When the competing company withdrew due to certain conditions from the city, they pounced on it and bought it.

“We closed our doors the same day,” Raulon said, adding that they had expressed their desire to crack first into the property once the previous party was out of the picture.

Anyone who walks past the property today will see a narrow portion of the plot dedicated to entertainment and community interaction. The couple plans to build an organizational-sized bocce court on the site.


The purpose of this group is simple: community.


“We’re laying the bricks ourselves,” said Rawlston, who hopes to have the project completed within two months. “We want to let everyone play and have a place where the community gathers on Sunday.”

She lived all over Florida during her life, but after meeting her current husband in 2016, they moved to New York City and started a construction project. After her father died last summer, she told her husband that she needed to return near her mother, who now lives in downtown Saint Petersburg. Shortly thereafter, they bought their tiny home, built in 1926 (there’s an “whites only” charter on the original title deed), and she now works there while her husband travels to New York City for two weeks out of every five.

“My husband, who has never lived outside the New York City metro area, immediately recognized the charm of Gulfport,” she said. “He, like me, loves everything about it—although he has no point of reference when I tell him this is one of the few bits of ‘old Florida’ charm left in the area.”

Her memories of “Old Florida” are vivid.

Being able to drive Golf Boulevard in Clearwater Beach and see the water. Live on Sunset Beach and secure the rent of a waitress. Seeing her former home in Safety Harbor and remembering the neighborhood as it once was, without the so-called McMansions that appear on every vacant lot. They are cute and fresh, but they don’t look like the rest of the community.

Ironically, it was the company’s scheduled refusal to build on an adjacent plot of land to conform to basic city standards that led to the opportunity, Rawlston told The Gabber. Upon informing city officials of what would be required prior to construction, such as demolishing an existing building on the property line—and the permits and variance required—the company decided to pass.

As for Rawlston, it has a much smaller number of such conditions that it can deal with. Since they only stack bricks and use no mortar, they don’t have to go through any licensing process or deal with relapse requirements.

The purpose of this group is simple: community. How serious are they about it?

“We have a mortgage on the house but we paid cash for this piece,” said Raulon. “I never want it to be built on.”

The idea of ​​maintaining this little corner of the outdoor space is great for the self-proclaimed Florida girl who loves to sit on her patio all day watching lizards and other Gulfport wildlife.

Seeing what has happened in other places like Key West, which has become a ‘destination’ and as a result, seen many of its residents chased by the exorbitant cost of living, it struggles when you think of Gulfport residents 50 or older who were recently evicted under similar circumstances.

“It’s just frustrating,” she said. “What can you do? People buy built houses. I understand it is your own property and you have the right to do whatever you want with it, but there must be some barriers – especially to protect our most vulnerable citizens.”

So this couple will do their part to keep the neighbors together on weekend afternoons for a few hours at a time.

“Everything we have is to be able to share in the community energy I’ve always loved at Gulfport.”

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