Plans for new RaceTrac mean demolition for historic "Beth Salem" house

skennedy@bradenton.comJune 6, 2014 

MANATEE -- One of the oldest houses in Manatee County is headed for demolition after the Manatee County Commission OK'd plans Thursday for a RaceTrac gas station-convenience store on site.

Owners of the 118-year-old "Beth Salem" house, 3004 53rd Ave. E., say they reluctantly plan to demolish the gracious old home, which has been listed on the National Registry of Historic Places since 1995.

The commission approved a preliminary plan for a new RaceTrac Market at the 3.54-acre site.

Plans call for a 6,000-square-foot convenience store/market, nine multipump fuel dispensers and a 10,000-square-foot canopy.

The Florida Victorian-style house on the property was the first with indoor plumbing in Southwest Florida, and also among the first with a telephone. When it was first built, its phone number was "7."

It sheltered Reasoner family members for decades, and also served as their place of business -- they still operate the oldest nursery in Florida.

Towering over the property is a live oak 60 inches in diameter that could be as much as 80 years old. There are also rare trees famous nurserymen in the family planted and nurtured, according to Ward Reasoner, representing the Reasoner Family Partnership Ltd. for RaceTrac Petroleum Inc.

"We love the home. We went to a lot of effort to try to save it," Reasoner told the county commission. "The family has kept the house for many years. It's caused a financial burden. It's just economically not feasible."

Although as many as 50 people contacted him about purchasing the house priced at $95,000 and moving it from the site, once they heard the cost of doing so no one ever went any further, said Reasoner.

The county historical commission said it had no funds to help.

"This is a really sad day in Manatee County," said Cathy Slusser, appearing before the commission on behalf of the Manatee County Clerk of the Circuit Court's Department of Historical Resources.

"It was built in 1896. We will lose one of the oldest houses in the county but property rights do trump historic preservation," Slusser said at the meeting at the Manatee County Administrative Building in Bradenton.

"My concern is we could have saved the house," she said, except for delays in instituting a new historical ordinance. Waiving ad valorem taxes to save historic buildings would have helped, said Reasoner.

The family has been paying taxes for years on it, and "it's extremely expensive," he said.

Commissioner Betsy Benac said the situation represents an extremely difficult problem.

"Obviously, we need to do what we can do to save our historical resources," she said.

In other action Thursday, the commission approved deleting references to community redevelopment areas and transportation concurrency exception areas from its Comprehensive Plan, which guides development.

County officials are replacing the two areas with the larger Southwest Tax Increment Financing District to encourage redevelopment.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter@sarawrites.

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