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New rules proposed to cool St. Petersburg’s historic designation battles

The City Council will vote on amended regulations about third-party designation meant to quell verbal and legal skirmishes over historic preservation
The Doc Webb house, which became a point of contention over its historic status. [LUIS SANTANA | Tampa Bay Times]
Published Oct. 17

ST. PETERSBURG — The city’s controversial third-party application for designating local historic landmarks is set to be reinstated after a six-month moratorium, but with new rules designed to make the policy less combative.

The amended regulations will require property owners and the non-owners attempting to make their properties local landmarks communicate before the issue comes up for a public hearing. This could mean property owners are less likely to be blindsided by outsiders’ landmark plans.

RELATED: Amid disputes about St. Petersburg’s historic preservation process, some crave the designation

The City Council will be asked to approve the new regulations on Nov. 7. The Development Review Commission and Community Planning and Preservation Commission recommended the changes.

Non-owners attempting to make a property a local landmark will now have to send a “notice of intent” by certified and regular mail to the affected property owner at least 30 days in advance.

“The city will not consider a non-owner application to be complete unless they have demonstrated compliance with the notice of intent,” said Derek Kilborn, manager of the city’s urban planning and historic preservation division.

Kilborn said a third party must also send a copy of their preliminary application to the property owner. Additionally, they must find out whether the City Council representative for the district in which the property is located is willing to ask the city itself to initiate the designation.

The third-party moratorium, which expires on Nov. 16, was imposed in May by Council members after months of escalating acrimony between property owners and preservation advocates. Recent battles have included failed efforts to designate the Doc Webb house in the Allendale neighborhood and the Holiday Motel on Fourth Street.

RELATED: St. Pete’s Holiday Motel, known for its colorful doors, will be demolished

The temporary halt to third-party applications for local historic landmarks did not apply to those the city itself might want to designate. The changes now being proposed to the city’s land development regulations came out of a joint Aug. 8 meeting of the council and the Community Planning and Preservation Commission.

The new regulations will also address balloting within neighborhoods for the creation of historic districts. Approval by 50 percent plus one of a neighborhood’s tax parcels is required before an application for historic designation can proceed.

Some changes relating to districts have been precipitated by legal challenges arising from the recent historic designation of Driftwood, a tree-lined neighborhood off 22nd Avenue S. Opponents filed a lawsuit claiming that the voting process had been flawed. One of their complaints was that ballots had not been date-stamped as required by city code. All had not been literally rubber-stamped, but city staff claimed that computer-generated time stamps were equally acceptable.

RELATED: Lawsuit challenges Driftwood historic status

The new regulations specifically state that a date stamp “shall include, but not be limited to, a physically or digitally produced stamp or seal" on the document or item "or inclusion in a filing or record for which metadata is recorded.”

The rules also mandate a public information meeting at least 15 days before ballots are issued to property owners for a district designation vote.

“Our office will send a direct mail notification to all registered property owners within the proposed district boundaries, inviting them to a public information meeting that will be hosted by city staff,” Kilborn said, adding that the meeting will provide background on the request and offer a forum for residents’ concerns and questions. Balloting will be explained.

“Because this is something we were doing as a matter of policy, now is the time to actually codify it,” Kilborn said.


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