More on the Politics of Historic Preservation

The following provides background related to my recent email arguing against the Historic District language in the proposed Historic Preservation law up for public comment at city hall October 7 at 9 AM and 5 PM , and to be considered by the city commission on November 9th. Please consider attending one or both of the October 7th meetings to argue against the Historic District aspects of the law.

The revised proposed law includes technical improvements, especially as they relate to voluntary agreement of owners to propose their property for inclusion on the Winter Park Register of Historic Places. We should all support this voluntary program. However, the proposed law keeps in place the formation of Historic Districts by neighborhood vote.

  • The existing ordinance requires a 67% vote to impose Historic District status on all properties included in a proposed district.
  • The May 2015 proposed law required a 50+% vote.
  • This latest proposal requires a 58% vote.

 

The rational question is why a dissenting property owner should ever be subject to any vote of their neighbors that puts improvements to their property under an arbitrary approval regime. The political question seems to be what voting threshold will be approved by the city commission for historic district formation.

While one possible resolution is to encourage the commission to leave this threshold at 67%, doing so still needlessly puts owners at risk. The advantage of removing any vote requirement is that doing so tells all Winter Park residents our elected officials serve the general good, not special interests seeking to impose their values on their neighbors. A third possibility is to include an opt-out right at the time of any historic district vote.

SOME BACKGROUND

Betsy Rogers Owens has put herself upfront as the leader of the historic preservation advocates. Betsy does not live in Winter Park. She is the granddaughter of Architect James Gable Rogers II, and her husband, Paul Owens, is Opinions Editor of the Orlando Sentinel. (Have you noticed any recent coverage of Betsy in the Sentinel?)

Strident historic preservation advocates including Betsy Rogers Owens have been trying for years to impose what they call “strong” historic preservation requirements (while you have been working and raising your family). Their version of “strong” requires you to subject all improvements on your property (whether deemed by them to be historic or not) to oversight by a Historic Preservation Board (HPB) if a majority of your neighbors vote for such oversight. Betsy and her friends, with the support of city staff, tried to lower this voting percentage to 50+% several years ago, basing the result only on those actually voting rather than requiring a majority of property owners. The commission declined to hear that proposal so the advocates are using this opportunity to try again.

That the commission has agreed to hear this proposal indicates three votes for a 50+% neighborhood voting threshold to force your property into an historic preservation regime may be expected if we fail to speak up.

The historic district language in the law is overly complex, so let me simplify the impact.

“Historic Resource” / “Contributing Element”

Over the years Betsy Rogers Owens and her friends have lobbied the city to create and add to a list of “Historic Resources” (including all homes designed by her grandfather). These are properties hired consultants and Betsy Rogers Owens judge as “contributing” to the history of Winter Park (note that they never asked for your opinion). Betsy and her advocates acknowledge that the proposed law targets these Historic Resources (also included as “contributing elements” within a Historic District). These properties are mostly included within the boundaries of proposed Historic Districts detailed on the last page of the list of “Winter Park Historic Resources.” You can check this document to see if your property is included as a Historic Resource or lies within the boundaries of a proposed Historic District. An interested citizen has used the list of historic resources to map the properties here, and map the proposed Historic Districts here.

“Non-contributing Elements” also require HPB oversight.

Under this law HPB identifies and maintains the city’s list of Historic Resources, including “contributing” properties (without your approval). Every property within a Historic District is subject to HPB oversight, whether you vote to be included in a district or not, whether someone else classifies your property as “contributing” or not. Even if your property is judged by HPB as a “non-contributing” property, you too are required to comply with HPB oversight as if you had volunteered your property for the Winter Park Registry of Historic Places.

The meaning of compliance with HPB oversight.

The proposed law grants HPB and city staff arbitrary control over approval of all requests for improvements to all properties within Historic Districts. HPB is required to measure and evaluate applications for all improvements under The U.S. Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation. These standards are intended to apply to properties receiving Federal tax credits and grants. Such tax credits and grants could only apply to private homes in Winter Park voluntarily included in the Winter Park Register of Historic Places.

Why are properties in historic districts not qualifying for Federal tax credits and grants (“contributing” and “non-contributing” elements) required by this law to be subject to such rehabilitation standards? This only makes sense in the context of seeking control for the sake of being controlling, a decidedly non-Winter Park value proposition.

Every aspect of historic district formation and related redevelopment control in this proposed law is extreme, unreasonable, and counterproductive to improving the quality of historic preservation in Winter Park and the quality of our community. Please consider attending one or both of the October 7th meetings (9AM and 5PM at city hall) to argue against the Historic District aspects of the law.

Regards, Pete Weldon


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