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Board seeks preservation grants

A county advisory board is taking the next step toward getting some much-needed grant money to help with historic preservation efforts.

But the path has been a rocky one.

This week, the Historic Resources Advisory Board voted 3-2 to try using the county's approved historic preservation ordinance to gain a designation that will help it get grants.

The board is asking the County Commission to seek the state designation of "certified local government.''

But the discussion before and after that Wednesday afternoon vote demonstrated how confused the process has been.

While the board has existed for three years, the ordinance that gives it power has been in place only since earlier this year.

That's when some board members suddenly realized just what power they had. Their charge includes deciding which structures in the county are historic, which can be demolished and which must be saved.

After the first applicant came forward seeking permission to raze a dilapidated old house on his property, the board had to decide that issue even as it was establishing criteria for decisions.

At about that time, the previous advisory board Chairman Tom Franklin decided not to seek another term on the board.

He told the board he could not enforce the ordinance because it could have a negative impact on property rights.

Long active in historical preservation in the county, Franklin again addressed the advisory board on Wednesday, beating himself up over not raising the alarm about the ordinance before it was approved by the County Commission.

He told the advisory board there were still too many unanswered questions for it to seek the county's application for the "certified local government'' designation.

Assistant County Attorney Michele Lieberman last month told the board the ordinance may not have enough teeth to earn the county designation.

Some board members have said a stronger ordinance is needed, while others have sided with Franklin, saying the existing ordinance could harm property rights.

"The issue is: Do we have too much power, and if we have too much power, are we compelled to use it?'' said advisory board Chairwoman Sandra Noble. "I think our role is a guiding role.''

Board member John Grannan said he was concerned about notifying people who had properties on the county's historic list.

The board is in the process of developing that master contact list.

Grannan said he'd rather see the board develop criteria to make demolition decisions "rather than go back to the commission and say we don't want this power.''

While board member David Noble said he wasn't sure the ordinance did have what it needed to get the state approval, he believed the board should move ahead. That way, the state could see the ordinance that exists now and suggest what is needed to give it more bite.

But Franklin said that was never the intent of the board or the ordinance. The board was instead meant to advise the commission.

"I'm not against historic preservation,'' Franklin said. "My concern is property rights.''

"The ordinance did not have the flavor that we wanted it to have,'' said board member David Arthurs. "We have a stronger ordinance than what we wanted.''

Grannan, David Noble and Teresa Johns-Gordon voted to ask the commission to begin the application process for the "certified local government'' status. Sandra Noble and Arthurs voted no.

After the discussion, Floral City resident Frank Peters urged the board to think about the larger picture of historic preservation. He asked them to focus on stopping the deterioration of existing historic structures.

He illustrated his point using photographs of the old bar known as "the Lighthouse'' on U.S. 41 in Floral City, which was recently demolished.

He likened the historic structures in a community as threads in a fabric. Once the threads are lost, "the fabric no longer exists,'' Peters told them.

In other business, the advisory board voted to support the Floral City redevelopment plan as the county moves forward to adopt it into the Citrus County Comprehensive Plan.

The proposed overlay district would allow the county to control what future construction will look like in a designated zone of the community.

Details of that picture will emerge in coming months as the county also prepares to fit the redevelopment plan into the county's formal Land Development Code.

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at 564-3621 or behrendt@sptimes.com.

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