Promoting safe growth
Published: Monday, January 29, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 29, 2007 at 1:56 a.m.
Last February, Gainesville home builder Barry Rutenberg represented the National Association of Home Builders in testimony before the U.S. Senate's Subcommittee on Trade, Tourism and Economic Development. In June and again in July, he spoke to the Canadian Parliament's Standing Committee on International Trade.
58, president, Barry Rutenberg & Associates
He was tasked with arguing for free trade against U.S. tariffs on government-subsidized Canadian softwood lumber. The NAHB argument is that Canadian lumber is not in competition with U.S. lumber and the tariff raises consumers' home-building costs.
"There wasn't a senator friendly to our position, so I got about two-thirds of the questions aimed at me and none of them friendly," Rutenberg said. "There were no softball questions from the senators. It was very interesting."
The nations have tentatively agreed that the U.S. will only place tariffs on Canadian lumber sold below a certain price.
The international diplomacy was among the latest in a long list of volunteer activities for Rutenberg on behalf of home builders and buyers, and in state and local growth, traffic and conservation issues. Among his activities have been the White House Conference on Small Business in 1995, Gov. Bush's Growth Management Study Commission, serving as president of the local and state homebuilders associations and chairing Alachua County's Blue Ribbon Committee on Finance.
Rutenberg will address the National Association of Home Builders later this month as chairman of its Property Insurance Task Force. The association has yet to take an official position, but Rutenberg said insurance companies would accumulate reserves quicker if they were allowed to use pretax dollars.
Still, he hasn't been as busy a volunteer as he has been in the past.
"I think I'm blessed to be in a position to be able to work on some of the topics I think are important. And I've been fortunate enough to be able to influence some of the outcomes.
"But I really like building houses and building communities. The big kick in the whole thing is seeing someone move into a home and really enjoying it. Some poeple think I develop land. I think I develop communities. The Harvard studies say when people are in communities, the kids get better grades. You have something to fight for. There's all sorts of good things that happen with that."
Rutenberg's father, Art, and uncle, Charlie, started building homes in Clearwater in the mid-1950s and he worked for them while in high school. They sold their business to U.S. Home Corp., for which Rutenberg went to work in Gainesville in 1973. Three years later, he bought its local assets and started his company.
Today, eight people work for Barry Rutenberg Homes and three for Trend Realty/Barry Rutenberg Realty.
His company developed the Huntington, Woodfield, Landmark Woods, Wood Creek and Coventry subdivisions. He has built subdivisions in partnership with other builders, currently in Arbor Greens on Newberry Road.
He also buys lots from other developers and builds homes on people's properties.
Rutenberg's homes are usually in the $350,000 to $1 million range, and up to $2 million.
He said his homes are known for good use of interior space - good flow and good proportions. Recent changes include a bonus room - a request from mothers who want a separate area for kids but still want to be able to see them from other rooms, and moving fireplaces to secondary positions so flat-screen TVs can dominate the family room.
Rutenberg has been adding different exteriors for different tastes, for example a design with contemporary or traditional facades, and perhaps a front porch. "It could be very different, but they're the same house."
Rutenberg has been very active in growth issues in Alachua County and even speaks in other states about smart growth.
Current issues include the Save Our Homes cap on increasing property values for homestead property. He said it discourages people from moving or building new houses that are more energy efficient.
Having developed much of the area northwest of Gainesvlle, which has strict growth regulations, Rutenberg is also concerned that people who have been on land for 40 years not be deprived of the right to build for their families on that land. "We're close to that being a problem."
"One of the dangers of regulations are the unintended consequences."
Whether building communities or volunteering to work for acquiring conservation lands, for better rules in development, keeping housing affordable or better cooperation within government, Rutenberg said "My goal is for Gainesville and the Alachua County area to be the kind of place my kids would want to stay in and I believe I've added to the quality of life."
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