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Politics of Historic Preservation

I continue to promote voluntary agreement by property owners to participate in historic designation as the wise choice for Winter Park.

As we consider the current and initially proposed Historic Preservation ordinance along with the Historic Preservation Board and the City Commission, I thought it useful to explore some of the background of how we got to today.

I love history, real history, history being a recounting or observation of lives, events, and places from our past that make us think and gives us a perspective that informs our own lives, values, and behavior. The realities of “historic preservation” in Winter Park to date emphasize quantity over quality, and in doing so, diminish historic significance in favor of control for the sake of being controlling.

Here is how “historic preservation” works…

  • The Federal government writes a law that defines requirements to qualify for “historic preservation” designation and potential grant money.
  • The State enacts a law requiring the creation and maintenance of a “master site file” of “historic resources” at the State level based upon voluntary submissions of forms describing any “resource” more than 50 years old (age being the sole criteria). This State law is enacted to comply with Federal law to be potentially eligible for Federal grants.
  • Anyone can submit a property description for the “master site file” anonymously or not, and in any event the source of the information is not validated nor is the property information audited for accuracy.
  • The State notes that the “master site file” “is an active inventory of Florida’s historical cultural resources that are over 50 years old, without regard to historical significance(my emphasis) (see FAQ #2). In other words, the meaning of the word “historic” is officially made irrelevant.
  • There is no requirement to inform owners their property is on the list, owners cannot have their property removed from the list, and access to the list is limited to requests for individual records while sharing any listing detail you may receive is discouraged.
  • Next, city staff creates a list of Winter Park Historic Resources that includes properties the city has paid a consultant to recommend for the State “master site file.” Note that the “historic consultant” has a vested professional and financial interest in proposing properties as “historic resources.”
  • City staff adds properties it considers to be “historic resources” with the “help” of local historic preservation activists having a personal vested interest in “saving” homes designed by their ancestors. Also, note that the city staff member responsible for historic designation was for several years a member of the board of directors of the local historic preservation organization led by the same historic preservation activists.
  • City staff then puts forth a local law with the “help” of the same historic preservation activists referenced above that refers to “the State of Florida’s official inventory of historical and cultural resources (see page 4),” falsely implying a State sanctioned standard of historical significance. Recall that the State officially declares significance to be irrelevant to listing in the “master site file.” A “master site list” becomes a list of “historic resources” which the historic preservation activists then promote as properties representing historic significance without informing or seeking agreement from owners of the listed properties.
  • With the local list of “historic resources” including “the State of Florida’s official inventory of historical and cultural resources” in hand, preservation activists aggressively petition the city government to “protect” these “historic resources” in a local law.
  • “Protection” to preservation activists means in part to gain control of “historic districts” through laws that require home owners to submit plans for any improvement or reconstruction or demolition to a Historic Preservation Board granted arbitrary power to approve or reject redevelopment applications.
  • In the case of the current and proposed Winter Park ordinance, an “historic district” is defined by 20% of property owners in any area within the city limits of Winter Park (that is, your neighborhood is included) wishing to establish a “district.” As drafted, the proposed ordinance currently under review allows a simple majority of property owners in the area defined by 20% of property owners petitioning to establish a “district” to bind the minority of those not voting or objecting to be included in the “district,” and to thus be required against their will to subject their redevelopment or demolition plans to a city board having arbitrary power to accept or deny such plans.

Please understand the purpose of all this arcane background. Historic preservation activists (including those on city staff) want to impose their values on you through formation of “historic districts.” All this convoluted stuff is designed to take control of redevelopment of your property away from you when “historic preservation” adherents declare your property “historic” under terms of a law those same people wrote with that purpose in mind. All those wanting 50% of your neighbors to tell you what you can and can’t do with your property please raise your hands.

So, what truly establishes real historic significance in Winter Park? I see three measures:

  1. When people get together to purchase an older property with private money and then restore it and open it to the public as an historic exhibit we know for certain that property bears legitimate historic qualities. (e.g., Casa Feliz and Capen House.)
  2. When elected government officials vote a public building historic for the purpose of preserving it we know for certain that property bears legitimate historic qualities and we also know it will be maintained with our tax money (e.g., Farmer’s Market Freight Depot and Winter Park Golf Course Club House).
  3. When individual private property owners voluntarily request historic designation knowingly subjecting redevelopment of their property to control of a city board, we know for certain that property owner and members of our community approving the request are convinced a property has legitimate historic significance. Such designation should preferably be with independent review and recommendation by the National Register of Historic Places to vouch authenticity and significance (e.g., Gary-Morgan House).

That’s it. All other cases require some authority to declare your property “historic” against your will. Where is the value in that? Answer: There is only negative value in compulsion.

Such compulsion is unjust as those not in “historic districts” (currently roughly 8,400 of Winter Park’s about 8,500 single family homes) remain free to improve, renovate, or demolish and replace within the objective criteria of building envelop specifically defined in our residential code, while those forced in to “districts” are compelled to subject their hopes and plans to a board of preservation activists having arbitrary control.

The only constructive policy providing historic preservation of true significance is one based on encouraging property owners to voluntarily apply to list their property on the Winter Park Registry of Historic Places. Let them seek and justify truly historic qualities and significance worthy of Winter Park, and let’s encourage them to do so through reasoned and reasonable incentives.

I encourage you to share your thoughts on these issues with members of both the Historic Preservation Board and City Commission.

Regards, Pete Weldon


Posted in Development, Districts, Policy.

2 Responses

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  1. Save Our Homes says

    Ironically, should this proposed ordinance pass, Winter Park is quite likely to witness a tsunami of demolition permits of catastrophic proportions for many of her most historic properties, in numbers exceeding anyone’s imagination. Hoards of Winter Park historic buildings turning to rubble in the months following Commission approval, should it occur. This is because nobody owning a home with a market value that is the same or less than if it were vacant land alone, would in their right mind keep the property up, given such a draconian threat of government re-zoning that could occur at any time for even the most cavalier of reasons – or for no reason at all.

    Already in Winter Park, demolition permits can be seen popping up on historic properties all over town since commissioners expressed an interest in hearing the proposed ordinance. Demolition permits in unusual numbers are clearly in response to the mere possibility that such an ordinance could potentially pass later this year. Approval of the ordinance, should it occur, would have the effect of increasing historic building demolition activity, exponentially, for so many years forward that no one really knows where the end would be, with the potential of making Winter Park nearly unrecognizable historically.

    The plain truth is that the free market has always been the best protector of historic assets in Winter Park, and that government meddling in historic preservation fuels excessive demolition. It is highly cynical, and indeed irresponsible, for those commissioners fishing for campaign contributions for the 2016 City Commission election to put our most treasured historic assets in jeopardy in calling for this proposed ordinance, and by pandering to those who love Winter Park’s history but who do not fully understand the principles of economics that governs demolition and restoration.

  2. Pitt Warner says

    The emphasis should be examining the statistics and facts of demolition. One story, cement block homes are being demolished in WP. Historic or classic WP homes are not being demolished. They are being voluntarily preserved. This is a political, emotional, condescending revised ordinance. Nothing friendly, inviting, or WP-esque in it. Please work to defeat this controlling ordinance. WP needs to encourage voluntary preservation but also allow individual property owners to make their own decisions.

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