Ordinance Changes Deserve Our Support

Dear Citizens of Winter Park,

Over the past year, the City’s Historic Preservation Board and an ad hoc committee of citizens have been working to strengthen our historic preservation ordinance.  The proposed changes to the ordinance will be discussed at two public meetings this Thursday, May 7, at 9 am and 7 pm, at the Winter Park Welcome Center.

A comprehensive revision to the city’s ordinance has been long overdue.  First written in 2001 as a response to the near demolition of Casa Feliz, the ordinance is intended to promote and protect the historic sites that serve as visible reminders of the history and cultural heritage of the city.

Since the ordinance was adopted, the city has designated 82 historic buildings and 2 historic districts–the College Quarter and Virginia Heights East. While every designation should be celebrated, the fact remains that only 14% of the city’s structures eligible for the National Register of Historic Places are protected from demolition by the city register, and an additional 7 potential historic districts remain undesignated. These shortcomings, coupled with the demolition or near demolition of numerous notable historic structures, underscore the need for a strengthening of the ordinance.

college quarter1The Historic Preservation Board (HPB), working with the consultant Bland and Associates, drafted a revised ordinance in early 2014 and brought it to a public forum for discussion.  It was clear from the tenor of that meeting that various constituencies in Winter Park who would be affected by the new ordinance felt left out of the process.

Consequently, an ‘offline’ group made up of people representing the diverse viewpoints expressed in the forum was formed to see if consensus was possible.  Convened by Winter Park attorney Frank Hamner, the group included: Jeffrey Blydenburgh, an architect and Board President of Mead Botanical Garden; Dykes Everett, attorney and land developer; real estate broker Scott Hillman, President/Owner of Fannie Hillman + Associates;  landscape architect Stephen Pategas, President of Hortus Oasis; and myself, representing the Friends of Casa Feliz.  Four of the six group members live in homes over 50 years old that could potentially qualify for historic status in Winter Park. Two live in potential historic districts.

Over the next year, we met monthly to educate ourselves on Winter Park’s ordinance and housing inventory in comparison to other Florida cities’, and to suggest what we think are fair and reasonable amendments to the city’s ordinance.  The suggested changes effectively balance the rights of the individual property owner with the rights of the community at large to preserve Winter Park’s historic assets.  This amended ordinance was approved by the HPB at its February 2015 meeting, and is scheduled to be considered by the Winter Park City Commission in July.

Two of the three primary changes to the ordinance appear to be undisputed.  The prior ordinance lacked language about the college quarter 3constitution of the HPB.  The revised ordinance would give preference for HPB membership to certain related professions (e.g., architecture, real estate, construction) and people who live in historic homes. Additionally, language was added to the ordinance that would allow for ad valorem tax relief for homes on the historic register that undergo substantial restorations/ improvements.

The third significant change to the ordinance, which has attracted more attention, involves decreasing the percentage of homeowner votes required to form a historic district from 67% to a simple majority.  This change is warranted for the following reasons:

Historic districts are good for individual property values, and therefore should be easier to form.  A multitude of studies of real estate values across the country all point to the same conclusion: Historic districts positively impact property values.  (See: University of Florida Study; Connecticut Study;  Philadelphia study;    National Study).  The reason is that historic district designations give potential homebuyers the assurance that the neighborhood’s appearance will endure over time, and that they can reinvest in sensitive improvements to their own home without the fear that neighbors will undermine this investment.  Evidence shows that historically designated houses that are not located in historic districts do not enjoy the same increase in value.

Historic districts provide derivative benefits to the city economy, and thus should be easier to form. Home buyers are attracted to Winter Park for its magnificent tree canopy, chain of lakes, and historic architecture.  Houses are marketed as being located in “Olde Winter Park,” or in a “Charming historic neighborhood,” even if the houses themselves are of more recent construction.  In addition, countless studies confirm the economic benefits of heritage tourism.  Each year, tens of thousands of visitors are attracted to Winter Park because of its historic reputation. This is an asset that must be carefully guarded, and historic districts can provide such a safeguard.

glencoe1Despite these documented benefits, it is more difficult to form a historic district in Winter Park than in any other Florida city.  Other Florida cities–including Sarasota, Jacksonville, and Ft. Myers–that have a voter threshold that must be reached to form a historic district set that threshold at a simple majority of votes received, or require that 50% of property owners in a proposed district return a “no” vote to defeat designation. In other cities, such as Orlando, Coral Gables, Tampa, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, historic districts are formed by the City Commission, not by homeowner vote. Lowering the threshold to a simple majority homeowner vote not only will bring Winter Park in line with other cities that value their history, but with all other Winter Park policies that just require a majority vote.

I hope you’ll read these well-considered amendments to the Winter Park Historic Preservation Ordinance (view here: Draft Ordinance). You may voice your opinion by contacting the Mayor and Commissioners directly (mayorandcommissioners@cityofwinterpark.org) or by attending one of the public information sessions (scheduled for Thursday, May 7, at 9 am and 7 pm at the Winter Park Welcome Center).

 Betsy Owens,  Executive Director, Friends of Casa Feliz

Note:  If you are interested in touring homes in the College Quarter Historic District, and in speaking to homeowners who live in this district, you are invited to register for the 9th Annual James Gamble Rogers Colloquium on Historic Preservation.  More information, including registration, is available here: http://www.casafeliz.us.

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