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  1. St. Petersburg

Complaints, fears delay St. Petersburg's effort to elevate more historic properties

St. Petersburg's plan to expand a list of properties eligible for historic designation is put on hold for now after some voice fears about the impact.
Published Jan. 2, 2019

ST. PETERSBURG — The city's plan to update a list of properties considered potentially eligible for historic preservation has been put on hold, at least for a few months.

The Community Planning and Preservation Commission made the decision after hearing from property owners upset and confused about the process. The city had planned to expand the potentially eligible list from 55 to more than 200 properties, among them private homes and commercial and religious structures.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: St. Petersburg's historic buildings get more attention

It was to be the first time the list had been updated since its launch in 2006.

But the plan encountered resistance, with property owners complaining during a Dec. 11 public hearing that they didn't understand why their building had been selected, that the city was violating their property rights and they faced the prospect of financial loss.

Their arguments persuaded the commission to take a closer look at the program, though the prevailing sentiment was that the list is necessary step to protect the city's historical properties. A vote was put off until April.

In the interim, city staff is being asked to find a way to alert buyers that a property is on the list, and reassess the list to remove properties no longer considered eligible. The staff also will organize a workshop for the commission to discuss the issue again.

In an interview, Derek Kilborn, a manager in the city's urban planning and historic preservation division, outlined how properties were selected for the controversial list.

"Those properties were identified either through neighborhood surveys that had been performed over the last 25 years or through other reports," he said. "In addition to that, there have been more recent conversations and discussions between certain property owners and the city."

Twelve structures designed by mid-century modern architect William B. Harvard Sr. are listed. Two, the Williams Park Band Shell and the Marbleside Building at 33 Sixth St. S, were on the original 2006 list.

The others — including the city's Main Library on Ninth Avenue N — were added later, using results of a survey required by the state in connection with the demolition of the inverted pyramid pier, also a Harvard design. The memorandum of agreement required St. Petersburg to survey the Harvard properties to determine their eligibility for the National Register of Historic Places.

Architect Glenn Quincy Johnson's Pinellas Point "birdcage" houses were added at the request of their owners, who are seeking historic designation for the structures, Kilborn said. In Allendale, several homes developed by Cade Allen already have local designation. The city is proposing adding the remaining Cade Allen homes to the potentially eligible list.

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At the Dec. 11 meeting, Commissioner Gwendolyn Reese said she was concerned that individual homes were listed and that homeowners didn't understand why they had been included. She said the selection process might need to be improved to involve property owners and added that they also need to be able to opt out of the list.

Involving property owners will help to alleviate confusion and lessen their anxiety and anger, she said. "As much as we need the list, I think we need to improve the process," she said.

Will Michaels, another commissioner, said updating the list was "long overdue," but that property owners' concerns should be addressed. Michaels said the potentially eligible list is particularly advantageous for downtown, since it will provide a "certainty" and "an early warning" system for developers.

Susie Gorin owns a home at 411 Cordova Blvd. NE that was designed by William B. Harvard Sr. and was one of several property owners who asked to be removed from the list.

"This has caused a lot of stress on our family, not knowing what this potential list is going to do to our property. We did not purchase it with a historic designation, nor do we want one. And I feel like we should have these rights as a taxpaying citizen," Gorin told commissioners.

"When you put something on residences, it's not really fair to the homeowners. And we live in a flood district and the global warming report has just come out. And 10 years from now, I can't tell you that my Harvard home can stay at that flood elevation level. I just want the rights to my land and to be able to have my family live and be able to build what we choose to build and deal with what is coming in the future."

Representatives of First United Methodist Church across from Williams Park echoed the property rights argument. The red brick Gothic Revival structure, with stained glass windows that include a 10-by-18-foot reproduction of Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The congregation, though, which owns almost an entire city block, wants to keep a Harvard building at 256 Third St. off the potentially eligible list.

Elizabeth Knowles, chair of the church's board, told the commission the church sees no benefit in putting what is known as the Schuh building on the list. The congregation has no plans to make changes to the building, she said, but wants to keep its options open "to use our property as we determine is best."

The city has said that inclusion on the list simply means that a property "likely qualifies for designation as a local landmark," a process that requires at least two public hearings and City Council approval.

The potentially eligible list is considered a way to protect historic properties from demolition. An application for a demolition permit automatically triggers a 30-day stay and allows notification to those who register to receive such information. A third-party application to designate the property historic will cause the demolition request to be put on hold pending the results of the designation request.

Commissioner Lisa Wannamacher of Wannemacher Jensen Architects, one of the architects for the new Pier, said that as an architect, she generally is "in favor of designating a large swath of buildings or structures done by master architects or master builders."

However, she said, there are "some structures and buildings that are more worthy than others."

Wannamacher lamented that the board had not been able to examine each property. "I have looked at several of them and found a few that, in my opinion, I would not vote to be on the list," she said. "Taking a large list like this and approving it, I'm concerned about that."

Commissioner Sharon Winters said the new list is too ambitious.

"I want us to consider property owners' concerns," she said, "but still look at our goals."

Contact Waveney Ann Moore at wmoore@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2283. Follow @wmooretimes.