The city commission will consider the proposed historic preservation law this coming Monday, November 9th at City Hall after 5 PM. It is important that those opposed to this ordinance make their presence known and felt. Your presence will make a difference.
I both summarize and detail my objections to the proposed law in the following letter sent to the commission today.
November 5, 2015
Mayor and Commissioners,
I have pushed back on the proposed historic preservation law as it addresses historic districts because the language in the law is wrong for Winter Park. The law also works against voluntary participation in historic preservation.
Much of the work Frank Hamner volunteered in re-writing the law is helpful and a good thing. However, regardless of efforts to restrict qualifications for districts, the involuntary nature and breath of HPB control are fundamentally negative in their impact on the character and quality of our city.
The debate about this law has become a fight for a political win by the proponents, rather than a debate over the merits and meaning of the actual law. When asking reasoned questions all I get is belittling responses and referrals to studies prepared by self-interested historic preservation advocates that deal in generalities about market value impacts and regulatory burdens where the advocates are not at risk.
This law as it pertains to historic districts directly affects the largest single asset of the vast majority of Winter Park residents, now and in the future. Accordingly, the language needs a responsible and thorough vetting and public justification by the city commission.
I hear people saying things like “its voluntary,” and “no one will ever be able to get any amount of votes to form a district anyway” regarding district formation. The first statement is wrong on its face. The second statement is a powerful argument to do away with the district aspects of the law entirely, because if wrong, the law materially damages those caught up in the district over-site regime against their will. A bad law should not remain on the books to appease anyone.
The proponents of lowering the voting threshold to form historic districts constitute the very essence of a political special interest. They have been unsuccessful at forming more districts at 67%, so their response is to promote a law compelling even more people into a district against their will by lowering the voting threshold. Is this a Winter Park value? If so, please explain it to me.
This law (both existing and proposed) reflects the controlling ambitions of a vocal special interest. It is on its face an “historic preservation” law but prioritizes architectural control and arbitrary judgment over historic significance. For tangible evidence of the above please review the history of the gerrymandered formation of the East Virginia Heights historic district and drive through the area with a map, carefully observing the properties in the district and neighboring properties not in the district. This reality demeans those who value the historic nature of their property and who preserve it out of respect for those qualities, whether or not they have volunteered it for the Winter Park Register of Historic Places, not because a law compels them to do so.
The law works against opportunities for voluntary participation that could attract legitimate historic properties, while it compels owners in districts with homes having no or questionable historic qualities into compliance against their will. This is neither healthy nor constructive. The imposition of this law may get some people the control they seek over what is redeveloped in their neighborhood, but it will not advance historic preservation. To wit, a member of HPB publicly acknowledged that he wants to stop homes of modern design from being built. If you want an architectural control law, write one of those and see if that flies.
Under this law, after becoming a designated property whether through voluntarily listing on the Winter Park Register of Historic Places; or through district formation whether voluntary or not, and whether “contributing” or “non-contributing,” what incidence of ownership remains?
We can do a lot better than this.
Now for the details that make this a bad law. Most citizen’s eyes will rightly blur at the following details but it is the responsibility of the city commission to understand it, make sure the words fit the purpose, and justify it publicly.
I hope each commission member will take time to consider these points and write down answers to the questions asked so they are sure to have a clear defense of their position this coming Monday.
Proponents of historic districts have said they are targeting only properties on the city’s inventory of Historic Resources. Why does the historic district language apply to all properties in Winter Park?
HPB is charged with identifying “historic resources” and creating filings for same with the State of Florida. Nothing in the language grants the property owner any say over or even knowledge of this process. Why not?
The language defines “non-contributing element” and then goes on to apply such “elements” within districts. All rules applying to properties HPB determines as “contributing” also apply to properties HPB determines as “non-contributing.” What is the distinction and why does it exist?
HPB is charged with (among other things) promoting historic districts and then having control over improvements within such historic districts. HPB determines properties that are “historic resources” or “contributing” or “non-contributing” with owners having no say in this process; then HPB is required to review all plans for exterior redevelopment of such properties; and HPB then approves or disapproves all plans for such improvements. Why do we have an appointed board that self generates its reason to exist with no oversite of any kind?
With the exception of being at least 50 years old (to which there is a general exception), designation Criteria are wholly subjective and arbitrarily applied.
This language applies in perpetuity if not changed, meaning that as all properties in the city become 50 years old they fall within the designation criteria. This means that every owner in Winter Park is or will be constantly at risk of their neighbors promoting historic district formation for whatever reason. Why should private and peaceful use of one’s home be at risk? Why should owners be forced into a position of defending their legitimate interests?
There is no language that distinguishes between properties that have been improved one or more times since their initial construction and those that are in original, presumably historic, condition. What does 50 years old mean?
What does the exception for “significance” mean and who determines “significance?”
Historic District Criteria and Process
Historic district criteria are based on the same subjective criteria listed above.
If a nomination fails the district vote, those objecting continue to be subject to a vote every year. Why?
There is no provision for a similar vote to rescind a historic district designation. Why?
The authority of HPB over exterior redevelopment is complete, arbitrary, and unconstrained except by right of appeal to the city commission or the courts at great expense to the owner. It applies to all properties in a historic district, whether HPB has judged them “contributing” or “noncontributing;” whether the owner has volunteered their property for inclusion in the district, or not. Why?
The power granted here is unprecedented. The city commission does not have this level of power over redevelopment projects coming to it under the conditional use process given the financial risk to the city of denial. If the commission denies a conditional use application for arbitrary architectural design objections or declines to approve floor area at or below that allowed for a zoning class, the applicant has valid cause for legal action against the city, and usually the financial ability to pursue a claim. If a homeowner objects to arbitrary judgments and/or denial of floor area by HPB, their only recourse is appeal to the city commission followed by legal recourse at great personal expense. Residential homeowners are rarely in a position financially, or have the legal understanding needed, to fight the city. What is the justification for putting any Winter Park resident in this position?
Someone needs to explain to the people of Winter Park why we have a law that compels property owners who object to being included in a historic district to file voluminous applications to HPB for redevelopment of their property; that compels compliance with arbitrary HPB rulings based on arbitrary standards; and that requires owners to defend their interests at great personal expense in time and treasure. Why should Winter Park residents agree to such a law?
There is no assured right even to floor area on an equal basis with those not included within a designated historic district. This is a major problem with the current and proposed law as it affects the voluntary agreement of owners to participate in historic preservation over-site. The law compels when it should encourage.
Guidelines for Review
Review guidelines are those used for properties on the National Register of Historic Places. This is gross overkill for historic district properties in Winter Park and another reason voluntary participation has been as low as it has been. The reason these strict guidelines apply for National Register properties is because taxpayers are subsidizing preservation through government grants or tax credits. That is, the quality of the preservation is assured through strict guidelines to assure taxpayers their money is delivering preservation independently judged as having historic significance, not spent based on personal opinions.
Only properties on the National Register can apply for such Federal grants and tax credits yet the owner of a National Register property is not compelled to abide by National Register redevelopment requirements, they are incentivized. So, why are historically designated properties in Winter Park not on the National Register being compelled to comply with such strict guidelines?
HPB has variance authority without constraint. The Board of Adjustment variance process applies to almost all properties in Winter Park, and depends on well-developed rules defining “hardship” with a responsibility for just and equal application seeking fairness and consistency. So, why is HPB granted unconstrained authority to grant variances without rules? This power has already led to the granting of significant variances that impose on neighbors and establish a precedent of arbitrary application (in most cases as a quid pro quo, a bribe, to get a property listed on the Winter Park Register of Historic Places).
A person (property owner or not) who changes a designated property without permission of HPB is compelled to reverse the impact of the changes and pay a fine. Why? HPB cannot lessen this requirement on a case by case basis. Why?
A person (property owner or not) who changes a designated property in a way (including those HPB has judged “noncontributing”) that causes “irreparable or irreversible damage” is liable for up to $15,000 in fines per violation.
This language confirms the only purpose of the law is to compel owners to submit to HPB control. No compulsion is needed for historic districts if the process is wholly voluntary and no one will be injured in any way as a result, yet many homeowners will be injured by this law compelling compliance. Such compulsion also limits the number of owners with legitimate historic properties who volunteer their property for the Winter Park Register of Historic Place.
I end by repeating a question posed above and add one more. Under this law, after becoming a designated property whether through voluntarily listing on the Winter Park Register of Historic Places; or through district formation whether voluntary or not, and whether “contributing” or “non-contributing,” what incidence of private ownership remains? Would you volunteer to become subject to this law and why? Please write down and publish your answers for all your constituents to read.
By its very language, the value of this law to Winter Park is negative, not positive. It chases owners away from voluntary participation in historic preservation and compels owners into HPB oversite against their will. In practice it will be worse than simply negative. It will pit neighbor against neighbor, consume taxpayer dollars on legal expense, financially harm those forced into districts, and in general terms diminish the character and quality of our city.
Our city commission needs to put our city on a positive course. I ask you to create a constructive path to a new ordinance that reflects the Winter Park values of tolerance and mutual respect.
Regards, Pete Weldon
700 Via Lombardy
Winter Park, FL 32789