For at least 14 years, it has been the stated goal of the City of Winter Park to become a Certified Local Government. The city’s historic preservation ordinance, adopted in 2001, states “The HPC shall apply to participate in the certified local government program through the Florida Division of Historical Resources.” The city’s comprehensive plan similarly states “The City shall participate in the Certified Local Government (CLG) program administered by the State of Florida by maintaining a preservation ordinance complying with state and federal requirements, filing required reports, participating in training workshops for staff and preservation boards, and applying for CLG grants to fund qualifying historic preservation projects.”
Now, you might be asking, “What exactly IS a certified local government, and why should Winter Park wish to become one?” And there would be no shame in admitting your CLG illiteracy, given that when the Friends of Casa Feliz Advocacy Committee met individually with each city commissioner in 2013, four of the five had no idea what a CLG was, or that both our preservation ordinance and comprehensive plan had stated that we should become one.
Yet, it’s an important program for a number of reasons, and there’s reason to feel chagrined that the city of Winter Park STILL isn’t a CLG, despite everything short of an 11th Commandment instructing us to become one.
According to the State of Florida website, the CLG program exists to “link three levels of government-federal, state and local- into a preservation partnership for the identification, evaluation and protection of historic properties.” The website describes the following benefits:
- CLGs are eligible to receive training, both on-site and at regional meetings, for local historic preservation boards and city staff;
- CLGs are eligible for special grants for historic resource surveys, National Register application preparation, and community education programs;
- CLGs are connected with one another through a network to share information, ideas and best practices between their respective communities.
Sounds like a no-brainer, right? Apparently, just about every other Florida city thinks so. Here’s a roster of state CLGs, which includes 68 Florida municipalities: http://dos.myflorida.com/media/693655/clg-list-2-23-15.pdf. Name a Florida city of any size that is known to have some historic resources. Then check the list. Tampa? Check. Miami? Check. Orlando? Check? Jacksonville, Gainesville, St. Pete, Sarasota, Coral Gables, West Palm? CLGs, every one. We’re hard put to think of any Florida city, other than Winter Park, that hasn’t seen the wisdom in becoming a CLG.
This begs the question, “Well, why haven’t we, then?” The primary reason appears to be foot-dragging–it just hasn’t been a priority for anyone at the city, which makes one wonder how the language ended up in the comp plan and the HP ordinance to begin with. In addition, when the Citywide Board Ordinance was passed in 2011, all language pertaining to board member qualifications was stricken from the HP ordinance. While such language – which would give preference to a preservation architect applying to serve on the HPB over, say, a shoe salesman – isn’t required, it certainly sends the message that the city is serious about preservation, which is a requirement. For a board that grapples with issues of historic design and scale and the technicalities of planning and zoning, it is only reasonable that members should have the technical expertise to perform their duties.
Fast forward to 2015, when the City appears to be on the verge of updating our historic preservation ordinance. The amended
ordinance drafted by City Planning, and released in May, reinserted language back into the ordinance on the skill sets that should be sought for HPB membership. It required that at least two members be architects, one be a lawyer, one be in building construction, and the remainder have demonstrated expertise in other relevant disciplines. The amended ordinance also specifically stated that the city will finally apply for CLG certification.
While supporters of the ordinance expected some consternation and conversation on the issue of district formation – the draft ordinance recommended lowering the threshold for forming a historic district from the current 2/3 property owner approval to a simple majority—they were surprised when at least one Winter Park resident – Peter Weldon – mounted an attack on the stated intent to become a CLG.
Weldon has exhorted the City Commission and the HPB to abandon the CLG process. He accurately points out that the grant funds available only to CLGs is a small fraction of the state historic preservation grants that even non-CLG governments and nonprofits can apply for. He also suggests that the requirements of the CLG program would be an undue burden for city staff.
His arguments appear to have gotten some traction among HPB members. At its June 17 workshop, two of the members who had received Weldon’s email, expressed doubt about whether the city should become a CLG, postulating that it might insert yet another level of bureaucracy into the process and burn up a lot of staff time with minimal benefit. These concerns would be valid if they were true. Then, at the June 22 City Commission meeting, Mayor Leary similarly expressed doubt over whether the city should pursue designation.
So, Preservation Winter Park turned to people who should know—the planning staffs of current CLG governments in other cities—to get to the bottom of whether there is indeed an advantage to being a CLG, and whether the advantages outweighed any potential disadvantages. We emailed Friederike Mittner, City Historic Preservation Planner for West Palm Beach; Emily Foster, Senior Planner for the City of Lakeland; Kathleen Slesnick Kauffman, Historic Preservation Chief of Miami-Dade County; and Richard Forbes, Historic Preservation Officer for the City of Orlando. Here are their unedited answers to our questions:
PWP: How, if at all, has being a CLG benefitted your city?
Mittner: We’re now eligible for additional funds set aside for just CLG’s with no match required! That’s a big deal. It’s a great networking opportunity too.
Foster: Lakeland has benefited from the CLG program by being eligible for and awarded several CLG grants. These grants have helped us to preserve local historic resources and develop historic district design guidelines. Technical assistance provided by the DHR’s office to staff on an ongoing basis has been beneficial as well. We are also able to provide input on National Register designations, which proved helpful in getting all seven of our local historic districts and several individual landmarks listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Kauffman: While it’s true that any non-profit can pursue a Division of Historical Resources grant, but only CLG eligible governments can go after the special pot of money that is specifically set aside for CLGs. In addition, there is now a new benefit to being a CLG in that CLG applications do not have to provide a match for the small matching grants.
Another really big benefit is the CLG Network, where all of us are instantly connected through a shared email group, and the questions and comments that we ask each other are so useful and pertinent. Why reinvent the wheel when another community may have already created design guidelines, or worked through a vinyl window issue, or figured out how to save a lighthouse from sinking into the water?
Forbes: One of the best things is the listserve where all of the CLG’s can ask questions of other CLG communities to help solve problems and find out what others have done and are doing. Also get to review National Register nominations first before they go to the state for review. The match is no longer required for CLG’s for the grants.
PWP: How, if at all, has being a CLG burdened your city?
Mittner: In no way has it been a burden.
Foster: To my knowledge, Lakeland has not been burdened by our CLG status whatsoever.
Kauffman: It’s never been a burden to be a CLG.
Forbes: Small amount of staff time for reporting to state and National Park Service.
PWP: How would you describe the requirements of maintaining your CLG status in terms of effort and staff time?
Mittner: One hour per year of completing a report and e-mailing minutes
Foster: It takes very little effort and staff time to maintain CLG certification. The annual report required by the National Park Service and Florida DHR takes approximately 2-3 hours of staff time PER YEAR.
Forbes: Reporting takes a few minutes a month and the annual report submission takes at most an hour to complete.
PWP: If you had to do it over again, would you become a CLG?
Foster: Absolutely. There is no downside to the CLG program, in my opinion.
Kauffman: Yes, of course I would become a CLG if we were not one already.
In the coming months, the Historic Preservation Board, and ultimately the City Commission, will need to decide whether the benefits to becoming a CLG outweigh the detriments. We hope their decision will be informed by the experiences of cities that have actually participated in the program, and not anti-government ideology.
In her email to us, Kauffman put it this way: “It is not a difficult or lengthy process to become a CLG, but the whole point of the program is to provide a benefit to cities or counties that have an expressed interest in saving their heritage, and have made it a priority to do so by having a strong preservation ordinance. Is this how you would describe Winter Park?”
It’s time that our city joins the legion of other Florida cities that proudly declare through their CLG status, “This place matters.”