LARGO — "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Philosopher George Santayana said that.
Largo officials are developing a new historic preservation ordinance to try to keep more of Largo's historic buildings intact. As part of that effort, city staffers want to hire an expert to compile a list of historic sites in Largo.
When this came up last week, a couple of Largo commissioners with long memories asked, Haven't we done this before?
Actually, the city has done it twice before — once in 1986 and again in 2011.
"There was a complete survey done of the historic properties in Largo. I think I still have it in my office," Commissioner Curtis Holmes said. "Are we going to be surveying these houses again?"
Vice Mayor Woody Brown added, "My only concern is spending a whole bunch of money to do something that we've done twice on historic stuff that's been here for 80 years."
Still, city staffers said an up-to-date, professionally done historic survey would prevent "uneven regulation," helping officials to make consistent rulings. It also would help the city fight off any future legal challenges to its historic preservation efforts.
The last survey of Largo historic sites was done by volunteers. Members of the city's Historic Preservation Advisory Committee, which has since been disbanded because of budget cuts, compiled a list of 371 historic buildings. Almost all of them are houses that were built in the 1920s and 1930s. The 36-page list is buried on Largo's website.
"They looked citywide and they looked at thousands of homes, and they narrowed it down to a much smaller subset," said Christine McLachlan, an urban planner for the city. "You could take what they narrowed it down to, which was what they deemed historically significant, and start from there. So it limits what you study with the professional survey."
To help pay for the survey, Largo will seek a matching grant from the Florida Department of State's Division of Historical Resources. McLachlan estimated the survey would cost less than $40,000. With a matching grant, Largo would be on the hook for less than $20,000. City commissioners appeared satisfied with that.
Commissioners agreed that Largo should draft a demolition review ordinance to help save historic buildings when possible. Commissioners will vote on the ordinance at a later date.
Here's how the law would work:
If a Largo property owner sought to knock down a building that was a certain age or historically significant, the city could delay the demolition while officials tried to find an alternative. That could include finding someone who might be willing to buy and preserve the building, possibly moving it to another location if necessary.
"It's trying to arrive at a solution other than demolition," McLachlan said. "Ultimately, the property may be demolished. But there's at least a time period to evaluate if that's the only option."
Largo created a Historic Preservation Advisory Committee in 2008 after several structures, including the 99-year-old Largo Hotel, were demolished.
Last year, the city eliminated the staff position that functioned as a liaison with that committee. City commissioners voted to transfer the Historic Preservation Advisory Committee's responsibilities to Largo's Community Development Advisory Board, which advises the city on development issues.
Many of Largo's most historic buildings are gone.
"A lot of the old structures were demolished years ago, one building after another," said 76-year-old Don Forehand, president of the Largo Area Historical Society. "I was born in Largo, but I don't see very much of my town left here. I would like to see some of it preserved for my grandchildren.
"In the past they probably would have just bulldozed these buildings, so there has been some progress."
Mike Brassfield can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4151.