Thursday, July 19, 2018
News Roundup

St. Petersburg City Council delays historic preservation vote until July

ST. PETERSBURG — Controversial changes to the city's historic preservation ordinance have shifted to a slower track, but not much slower.

The City Council decided Thursday to delay the final vote on ordinance changes until its July 23 meeting to provide time to hold another public workshop and give concerned property owners more time to weigh in.

The proposed changes, among other things, would make it easier for neighborhoods to apply for landmark status, which restricts how people can renovate and develop property.

City staffers and a citizen preservation commission spent four years trying to craft the new ordinance, and a council vote had been scheduled for later this month.

"I think we can allow a reasonable amount of time to accommodate some of the citizens in the community to wrap their brains around this,'' said council member Darden Rice, who pushed for the delay.

But the delay should not last too long, she said. "I am concerned that the tactic of asking for a delay is also a tactic to try to defeat this ordinance.''

Preservation advocates say landmark status raises property values and maintains distinctive architectural characteristics of a neighborhood. Opponents contend it makes maintenance and rehabilitation more expensive, even renovations that make homes more energy-efficient and hurricane-resistant.

One key battle covers how many property owners would have to agree before a neighborhood could apply for landmark status.

The current law requires two-thirds of property owners to vote to submit an application. That has proved to be a high bar, because people who don't vote essentially get counted as a "No."

City staffers recommended lowering that application threshold to a simple majority of property owners. Yet another proposal, backed by Mayor Rick Kriseman, would let a simple majority of those voting to decide whether to kick-start an application. Ultimately the City Council must approve any historic designation.

Other proposed changes to the ordinance include:

• Limiting landmark status to buildings and neighborhoods that are at least 50 years old.

• Forbidding a third party from requesting historic designation on buildings that owners want to demolish or renovate that the city has already given "site plan approval."

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