Tag Archives: Historic preservation

Time to Seek Common Ground

An ironic turn of events took place in Winter Park late last month.

On Saturday, May 21, renowned economist Donovan Rypkema spoke to an audience of more than 200 at Rollins College, keynoting the 10th Annual James Gamble Rogers Colloquium on Historic Preservation.  Rypkema put forth with sound logic and indisputable data the case for historic districts.  He highlighted numerous academic studies from cities around the country that prove historic districts bring about increased property values, reduced foreclosures, higher tax revenues, more heritage tourism, and positive demographic shifts toward the “creative class” that cities want to attract.

Two days later, a quarter mile away at City Hall, the majority of Winter Park’s City Commission voted to overturn a key provision of the city’s historic preservation ordinance, making it harder to form a historic district in Winter Park than in any other city in Florida, and greatly reducing the likelihood that any additional districts might be formed in the city.

Regrettably, none of the city commissioners who voted to turn back the clock on districts were able to attend Mr. Rypkema’s presentation.  We’re certain they would have been troubled to hear the leading expert on the economics of historic preservation warn “I don’t know of another city in the United States the size of Winter Park that has the high quality of architectural and urban character, balanced with as little protection of that character for the future.  That I do know.”

The highly informative and entertaining speech can be viewed in its entirety here:

Yet there are reasons to remain optimistic. Looking ahead, there are ways to protect our “high quality architectural and urban character” without the formation of local historic districts, and we hope the city will set its sights on these:

  •  Individual homeowners may choose to designate their homes.  We are hopeful that the Historic Preservation Board and Winter Park’s City Commission, in the coming months, will offer benefits to homeowners who make this lasting gift to the community.
  • While National Register Districts lack the statutory protection and proven economic benefits of local districts, they still bring increased appreciation for a region’s history, and should be encouraged.
  • Celebrating exemplary preservation efforts—as is the goal of the Winter Park Historic Preservation Board Awards that were given at the May Colloquium (see sidebar)—also increase the likelihood that people will choose to preserve rather than demolish.

The Historic Preservation Board, under the leadership of Chairman Bill Segal, is increasing its profile in the community and studying ways to reward preservation, and deserves our support.  Under Segal’s leadership the board is functioning methodically and professionally, and for the first time in years, several board members attended the Colloquium. We are grateful for their cooperation and leadership.

Individually, all five commissioners have publicly voiced their commitment to celebrating and protecting the historic resources that grace our city.  We trust that while the majority finds historic districts unpalatable, all five commissioners will work together to explore and adopt other innovative approaches to preserve Winter Park’s historic assets for future generations.

ANNOUNCING THE 2016 WINNERS OF THE CITY OF WINTER PARK HISTORIC PRESERVATION AWARDS

 

Excellence in Residential Renovation – The Grover House, 567 Osceola Avenue

Recipients:  Owners William and Joanne Stange

567 osceola567 Osceola Avenue is significant as an example of the Free Classic type of Queen Anne style house and for its association with the early period of development in Winter Park. Built around 1912 by L. W. Spangler, it was sold to F. L. Hall in 1925 who subdivided the surrounding property and also was the developer of nearby Osceola Court in the late 1920s.  At different times, the house became the home of Dr. and Mrs. Edwin Grover and his sisters Eulalie and Anne, and the retirement home of Sidney and Louise Homer.  Dr. Grover was the Professor of Books at Rollins College beginning in 1926. In his early career, he was an editor and publisher.  He also wrote several books and mentored many students who were published.  Dr. Grover was among the active group of residents who helped create Mead Garden.  Eulalie Grover wrote the Sunbonnet Babies series of children’s’ book. Sidney Homer was a noted composer and Louise Homer was a classically trained opera singer.   Listed on the Winter Park Register of Historic Places in 2005, The Grover House at 567 Osceola Avenue had been a student rental for many years and while little altered, it was also not in good condition.  Richard Booth of Boowell Properties purchased the house and set about rehabilitating it and preparing it for modern living.  The original windows, wood siding and porch columns were painstakingly restored.  The tangle of electrical and plumbing lines replaced with code compliant systems and plan approved for a rear addition to permit an updated kitchen and bathrooms. Owners William and Joanne Stange completed the beautiful rehabilitation of the house.   The accurate restoration makes the Grover House an elegant nod to Winter Park’s early days.

 Excellence in Adaptive Reuse– Osceola Lodge and Knowles Cottage

Recipient: Facilities Manager Bob Jones on behalf of the Charles Hosmer Morse Foundation

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Osceola Lodge is home of the Winter Park Institute and the Bach Festival Society of Winter Park

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Knowles Cottage is home to the Winter Park History Museum offices

Osceola Lodge, named after the Seminole Indian chief, was built on speculation in 1886 by Winter Park pioneer Francis B. Knowles who also built the “winter cottage” at 232 North Knowles Avenue.  Charles Hosmer Morse (1833-1921) bought Osceola Lodge and the Knowles Cottage in 1904 and he expanded and remodeled it in the Arts and Crafts style.  Granddaughter Jeannette Genius moved into the house in 1937, and she and her husband Hugh McKean lived in the house for a few years beginning in 1947.  A private residence for most of its life, Osceola Lodge is now home to the Rollins College Winter Park Institute; a visiting scholars program launched in 2008.  Supervised by John Parks of the preservation firm Renker Eich Parks Architects of St. Petersburg, the Morse Foundation completed roof to foundation rehabilitations of Osceola Lodge and the adjacent Knowles Cottage.  Historical photographs and Jeannette Genius McKean’s records provided the basis for an accurate restoration.  The original pale yellow exterior color was restored and the asbestos roof shingle replaced with cedar of the type used in the early 19th century.  Osceola Lodge and Knowles Cottage stand as representatives of Charles Hosmer Morse’s legacy and as excellent examples of Winter Park’s early history.

Excellence in Commercial Renovation –The Capen-Showalter House

Recipient: Executive Director Debbie Komanski on behalf of The Albin Polasek Foundation

Capen House-0003The Capen-Showalter House is associated with the pioneer development of Winter Park and families significant in city history.  It was built in 1885 for James S. Capen, one of the City’s early settlers.  The house was originally a Folk Victorian style wood frame building located at 520 North Interlachen on Lake Osceola.  It was remodeled in 1923 in the Tudor Revival style fashionable during the Florida Land Boom period.   It is significant for its association with James Capen and early development of Winter Park, and its altered original architecture has achieved its own significance over time due to its association with the Showalter family.  The Albin Polasek Museum & Sculpture Gardens, Winter Park History Museum, the Friends of Casa Feliz and hundreds of community supporters rescued the home by raising funds to relocate the 200-ton building across Lake Osceola to a new lakefront site on the Polasek Museum grounds.  Split into two halves nicknamed Fred and Ginger for the move, the house was floated across the lake in an event that attracted national media attention.  The Capen-Showalter House is now beautifully restored and tailored for its new life as museum offices, history and art exhibits, and gracious space for workshops, meetings and special events.

 

 

 

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Have You Hugged Your P&Z Member Today?

 

by Betsy Owens

On Sunday, Mayor Steve Leary declared May 1 “Thaddeus Seymour Day” in honor of everyone’s favorite Rollins president emeritus (Hear, hear!)  May 2, you may not realize, is “National Truffle Day” (in my house, every day is Truffle Day).  But May 3?  This sad little date has the ignoble distinction of being “National Lumpy Rug Day” (really and truly) and “National Two Different Colored Shoes Day” (look it up).  To correct this injustice, and based on the actions of Winter Park’s Planning and Zoning Commission Tuesday night, I hereby declare May 3 to be “National Hug a P&Z Board Member Day.”   Because Tuesday night in Winter Park, democracy functioned as it should, and our P&Z Board listened to what the West Side residents want, and don’t want, built in their neighborhood.

Under consideration was a proposal by Owens Realty Services (irony noted) to construct 6 3-story duplexes (for a total of 12 units) on 5 lots that the company owns at the corner of West Lyman Avenue and Hannibal Square.  The project would require rezoning of two of the lots from the current R-1A (Single Family) to R-3 (or, according to the developer’s attorney, “R-3 light,” as the project would be slightly smaller than R-3 zoning would allow).

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Proposed Duplexes at Lyman and Hannibal

In some neighborhoods, the project would have been acceptable—maybe even desirable.   The developer’s lawyer argued that the property would certainly look better with the townhouses than it does in its current barren state. In addition, she argued that 3-story townhouses would present a more gradual transition between the 5-story garage to the west and the small, single-family homes to the east of the property.

This rezoning request wasn’t nearly as ambitious as many of the requests over the years that have preceded it.  But Tuesday evening something remarkable happened.  People from both sides of the tracks (I stopped counting at 25) rose up with one voice and said, “Enough.”

Enough turning a blind eye to the unchecked gentrification of the historic West Side.

Enough buying into the impoverished mythology that the “highest and best use” for land brings about social and economic well-being.

Enough siding with developers over residents.

Indeed, the Owens project was voted down not because it was more lacking in merit than any other West Side development.  It was voted down because Winter Park has finally reached the tipping point where we can no longer ignore the systematic erasure of a community that has contributed to Winter Park’s history in equal measure to the folks on the white side of the tracks.

Winter Park citizens, Tuesday evening, your Planning and Zoning Commission listened.  They listened to city planner Jeff Briggs, who warned that the proposal was in direct opposition to the city’s comprehensive plan, which states that any upzoning from R-1A on the West Side is to be “strongly discouraged.”

They listened to Gerald Girand, who, as the owner of one of the new David Weekley villas just west of the railroad tracks, acknowledged that folks might have expected him to be for the project. Instead, he and his neighbors urged the commission to follow the comp plan and to not “subject Lyman Avenue to the slippery slope” of density.

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This is what a slippery slope looks like: from the City’s Comprehensive Plan

They heard Glenn Franklin, whose home of 40 years would directly abut the proposed townhouses, question “why can’t they build lovely single family homes on Lyman Avenue like they do in the rest of Winter Park?”  Resident Barry Greenstein, who once worked for the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in Washington and Maryland, agreed. Referring to townhouse clusters and apartment buildings, he said, the developers “don’t offer the same ‘products’ on the Isle of Sicily or in the Vias,” and warned that Winter Park’s zoning practices of the last 30 years could be considered discriminatory.

Longtime West Side residents Mary Daniels, Martha Bryant-Hall and Linda Walker-Chapell decried the gradual chipping away of the historic fabric of their neighborhood with incompatible structures and displaced residents.  Of the 5-story parking garage that was to be ‘softened’ by the 3-story townhouses, Lurlene Fletcher complained “we didn’t want that thing to begin with!”

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The city changed the Comp Plan in 2004 to allow this behemoth on the West Side.

The developer’s logic in that case was particularly rich.  “Since your neighborhood has already been marred with a 5-story parking garage, we’re going to lessen the blow with some 3-story townhouses.”

Laurel Habgood, a white woman who lives at 411 West Comstock, said that she and her husband relocated from out of town to the West Side in 2014 because of its diversity and history. “We don’t want to see that change,” she said.

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One modest home finds itself caught in the undertow of David Weekley’s “Park West.”

You would have been proud of your P&Z board.  After public comment, Pete Gottfried immediately moved to reject the proposal.  Ross Johnston seconded, saying “calling this R-3 light is a smokescreen.”  P&Z Chairman James Johnston spoke in favor of the project, but the other members weren’t having it.  Tom Sacha said “when you buy property you should plan to build to the zoning you bought into.”  Bob Hahn said that although the architectural renderings were good, the decision was a “social justice issue.” In the end, the vote was unanimous against the proposal.

What does the future hold for West Winter Park?  With the profits to be made through developing what is analogous to the fertile banks of the Nile, we have certainly not heard the last of zoning change requests for that neighborhood.  Like a giant Whack-A-Mole game, citizens will need to be vigilant in bird-dogging where the next ill-advised rezoning request pops up.  But if Tuesday night was any indication, perhaps we’ve reached a new level of awareness in the City of Culture and Heritage.  Let’s hope so, anyway.

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A Farewell to (the College) Arms

 

The purpose of this blog post is not to decry the demolition – already in progress – of the College Arms Apartments.  Rather, it’s to offer a brief requiem, only fitting for a lovely building of quality design and construction that has graced our community since 1935. collegearms5

The four-unit apartment building at the corner of Holt and New York Avenues was designed by well-known architect Harold Hair, “to harmonize with the nearby college buildings,” according to the January 25, 1936 edition of “Winter Park Topics.”  A contemporary of James Gamble Rogers, Hair also designed a number of prominent residences including the 1934 Spanish Eclectic house at 500 Interlachen Avenue (on the Winter Park Register of Historic Places) and the 1927 Gary-Morgan House (named last year to the National Register of Historic Places), as well as the Beal-Maltbie Shell Museum on the Rollins campus.

 

500 N. Interlachen

500 N. Interlachen

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The Gary-Morgan House

 

A gracious entry hall and stairwell lead to four apartments:  two have two bedrooms; two have one. All feature brick fireplaces with wood mantles, original wood floors and plaster walls, and exposed knotty pine beams in the living rooms.   Two of the apartments have glassed-in sunrooms on the Southern exposure.

The exterior of the building boasts an attention to detail and scale absent in most many modern day buildings.  For example, a four unit apartment building constructed today would rarely have the variety of window shapes and sizes, decorative balconies, decorative plasterwork or even the varied articulation that adorn the College Arms. The structure is an homage to a time when details mattered, even on a small rental building.  Early photos show a beautiful barrel-tile roof which was replaced in recent decades.

The building was privately owned until 1969, when Rollins purchased it to expand housing options for students. Until that time the building even had a small backyard pool and nursery. Rollins Vice President John Tiedtke had an office on the first floor of the building from 1973 until his death in 2004; Campus Safety was also briefly located there.  For a time, the upstairs units housed a program called “Holt House,” a group of male and female students who created their own curriculum.
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As we go to press, the building is being demolished to make way for a new campus Child Development Center.  The College has taken care to preserve the decorative medallions like the one at left, which have been removed from the building.

 

 

 

 

 

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Bringing This Old House Into This Century

This is the third installment in our three-part series profiling residents of Winter Park Historic Districts.  Opponents of a strenghtened preservation ordinance have kicked into high gear to try to convince residents that if they find themselves in a historic district, they will be subject to an arbitrary review board that will severely limit what they can and cannot do.  A resident of the College Quarter since 1993, Pam Coutant isn’t buying it.

by Betsy Owens

Pam Coutant oversees the current renovations

Pam Coutant oversees the current renovations

Pam Coutant may have been born 75 years too late. She has the style and energy of a marathon-running supermom, but the gentility and wisdom that conjures my grove-walking southern grandmother—a steel magnolia with a goodly dash of Yankee pragmatism thrown in. Talking to her you get the sense of someone from a different time, when people were more sensible and lacked pretense. She’s a Winter Parker by choice, and is very clear about why she loves it here.

Pam and her engineer husband Steve have been temporarily displaced from their College Quarter home, which is undergoing a major remodeling project. She teaches at the Methodist Preschool a few blocks from her home, while deftly managing the activities of two busy daughters, Lucia (14) and Sophie (12).

Preservation Winter Park: You grew up in Windermere, attended boarding school in the Northeast, and then returned to go to Rollins, and have been in Winter Park since. What is it that has enticed you to stay in Winter Park?

Sadly, it feels like much of what I love about Winter Park is in peril. I like the village scale. I liked the scale and understatedness of the homes. I just love cottagey, older homes—some of them are quirky how they’re set on the land, or embraced by the landscape. I love the downtown, and the culture, and have since I went to Rollins. When I was a student at Rollins, I would sometimes just get in my car, drive around and look at the houses. I loved the whole area.Capture

Most people don’t come to that appreciation for architecture until they’re a little bit older, but you were just a college student.

I think going to school in New England, I was just intrigued by the older buildings. I loved the stone row houses, the richness and character and history. Who lived there? What was life like when they had staff who lived on the top floor? I loved to romanticize.

Are there any other neighborhoods or areas of Central Florida where you would consider living?

No. I mean, sometimes the hustle-bustle is a little much for me here. I liked how Windermere, when I was growing up, was such a sleepy, small Florida town, but it’s not really like that anymore. I love Mount Dora, but it doesn’t have the same amenities we have here.

Do you think it’s possible to preserve an idealized, small-town way of life, or do you think it’s just inevitable that if an area is nice, it’s going to grow and change?

That’s a tough question. I think when you have a nice place, people want to come. But sometimes they don’t realize what it is that attracts them to the place, and they begin to make changes that detract. I think preservation is possible, given the right leadership, but I’m afraid we’re past that point in Winter Park, and we’re backpeddling.

Coutant Home on Lakeview Drive, College Quarter

Coutant Home on Lakeview Drive, College Quarter

Tell me about your house. What particularly attracted you to it?

I was at Rollins at the time. I loved the arched windows and the green roof, and the Mediterranean look. We bought it in 1993.

It was started in 1925 and finished in 1926. Not much has been done to it since then, except for the addition of air conditioning and enclosing the porch. The records of the house were in the basement of City Hall, which flooded, so a lot of our information is hearsay and what we can dig up. Our house and the one immediately south were built at the same time by the Rollins family (no relation to the college). Our house was built as a wedding gift for the daughter. A Dean Enyart from Rollins College later lived in the house. I believe Rollins actually owned the houses for a while.

I was on the committee that helped form the design guidelines for the College Quarter. Going through that process, I’d call our house a mission revival, but it’s not super typical of any one style. The cool thing about it is that it has an interior courtyard, which is typical of mission. It’s very open inside. The living room and dining room are very open, and have long views. It’s a very small house for a family of 4. It’s only about 2000 square feet.

How big will the house be when you’re done?

It’ll be about 3100 square feet. We’re basically just pushing out the exterior walls of the house. But because they’re on different sides of the house, it’s a bigger job than you would think. We’re reconfiguring inside. I’m sure it would have been easier to knock it down and start over.

You’re going to heroic lengths to save the house but to make it suitable for your family.

The Coutant Family

The Coutant Family

Yes. But the good thing is that our architect, Randall Slocum, loves the house and agreed with our vision of adding to the house without compromising its integrity. People encouraged us to fill in the courtyard, or to go up a story, but we wanted to stay true to the Mission Revival style of the house. So we knew we had the right architect.

How has your interaction been with the historic preservation board, in getting approval for the changes you’re making?

It’s been a non-issue. You hear people moaning, “Oh you have to go through the historic preservation people…good luck with that!” but it’s been so easy. What we’re doing is sensitively planned. And here’s the big thing. We’re moving the front façade of the house. But we’re reconstructing it exactly how it looks, 8 feet closer to the road. We assured them that we’re going to have the same stucco, keep the green tile roof, the same style of windows, and they said “fine” and sent us on our merry way.

Did you think it was too easy? Do you wish they’d use more scrutiny?

I don’t, but the reason I don’t is because I am fully confident that what we’re doing is appropriate and acceptable. My philosophy from the beginning has been “Let’s take this old house, and bring it into this century.” We’re not just building it for us, but for whomever comes along later. We’re bringing it to current day living standards so that it will stay there. I love the house so much, and I really don’t want to change it. I drive by right now and shield my eyes—it’s painful to look because, in this messy construction phase, it looks like the house is being compromised. But when we’re done I know it will be right.

Do you think it’s fair that other people in the neighborhood have to abide by a separate set of design rules – that some residents had no hand in determining – that govern what they can do on their private property?

It’s unrealistic to think that all people are going to value history. So I can understand that it makes people mad, that you can’t do certain things.

You can tell people, if you don’t like an old house, don’t buy it. But they want to walk to Park Avenue, and there’s an old house on that lot, and it’s for sale. But I feel that someone has to stand up and say “we’ve got to keep these things if we want them to be around.” Yes, I can see why that irritates people. But on the other hand, these are not big lots. They’re not acre lots. We are living in close proximity to our neighbors, so I feel more strongly about not allowing someone to build a two-story structure that’s smack dab up against someone else’s property line looking down into their yard. That’s what makes me mad. Let’s be considerate of our neighbors.

How would you characterize Winter Park’s sense of place?

I feel, honestly, like we’re holding on for dear life, trying to keep something of the soul and history of Winter Park alive. Winter Park’s heritage is what makes this place feel real to me, in contrast to so much of Central Florida. It’s the land around us, the people who were here before us. They’re the ones whose good stewardship made it such a special place. We’ve been given a gift—at the very least, we just have to try to not mess it up.

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PLANTING ROOTS BACK HOME

This post is the second in our series on living in historic districts in Winter Park. Two weeks ago, we profiled Elizabeth and Jim Faiella, who live in a Victorian cottage in the College Quarter. Here, we talk with Hannah Miller, who recently purchased a 1930 wood-frame modified bungalow in the Virginia Heights East Historic District with her husband Wade. The Millers have two children, Sabine (5) and Ethan (1).

HANNAH COMES HOMEhannah2

After 16 years as a displaced Floridian, Hannah Robertson Miller has found her way home to Winter Park. A third-generation Winter Parker, Hannah was anxious to try something different after she graduated from Trinity Prep in 1998. Her interests in art and architecture, culture and and social activism, led her to attend college in Vermont, law school in Austin, and to live and work in Boston, Santa Fe, and Macon, Georgia. However, after she and her architect husband Wade had their two children, they began to think about moving back to Winter Park to be closer to her parents Pat and Randy Robertson. On the verge of moving into her dream house in the Virginia Heights East Historic District, Hannah is discovering that the sense of place she found so attractive in other cities is right here in her own backyard. And she wants to keep it that way.

Preservation Winter Park: You’ve lived lots of places with well-preserved historic districts.

I have always sought out those particular areas. In Santa Fe, I lived on a street that had the only mud plaster adobe house left, with the traditional interior courtyard. In Macon, I lived in a precious historic neighborhood, right across the street from the oldest Catholic church in Georgia.

PWP: In terms of economic development, you and Wade are the very kind of people that communities are interested in attracting—young, creative, educated, and community-minded. If there had not been historic neighborhoods in Winter Park, would you have been interested in moving back?

I felt very strongly that I would only move back to Winter Park if I could find a house in a neighborhood that had a higher concentration of historic homes. One of the reasons that I love Winter Park and our neighborhood is that it has this texture, this connection to the past, so that when I’m on a walk I can feel a connection to all the people who lived here before. I’m a third generation Winter Park resident, and I feel connections to my parents and my grandparents.miller quote

I think about how this city started. Because it has its roots from New England, and I have spent time in that part of the world, so I feel a connection to that also. It has a real sense of place. Obviously, between the lakes and plant life it’s a place of great natural beauty. But growing up here, with grandparents who lived in a historic home (see blog post at Schecnk House), I had a real sense of the preciousness of the architecture, even as a young child. As a family we lived one year in Palm Beach, when I was 14, and I remember that I’d get on my bike after school, and I’d ride down the Lake Trail, and for my own pleasure I would go architectural touring. I’d look at all the houses that I thought were the most unique and beautiful. So I’ve always had an appreciation for that.

PWP: What do you love about Winter Park?

In addition to the architecture, I love the village quality. The houses are connected to one another, and they have a relationship with one another, and to me that’s one of the most important aspects of preserving the integrity of a neighborhood. It doesn’t put one house above the others; it considers the whole as a community. And when you have these huge houses that are out of scale, dwarfing the homes next door, it changes the feeling of the neighborhood. Architecture is obviously a way of making place but it’s also something that makes community. I appreciate in neighborhoods like the College Quarter and Virginia Heights that there is this feeling of the homes being in relation to one another. And I love that.

millersPWP: Are you concerned, living in a historic district, about being restrained if you want to make changes to your house somewhere down the road?

Well, we are in the middle of a 9 month interior renovation of our house. So I’m not concerned at all. I need to mention this because it was so disturbing to me when we bought our house. I had been eyeing this house from afar for 2 years. I even had a folder on my computer with photos of this house. When we did ultimately buy the house, the previous owners gave us their plans to remodel that they had already had approved through the historic preservation board. To me, the changes that they had proposed would have made the house unrecognizable. So, if anything, I think the rules are too lax. If changes that extensive got through, it’s disingenuous to argue that the current design guidelines are too restrictive.

But, even when the rules are being properly enforced, all it takes is a little creativity to really make something work for your family. We are in the process of making changes on the interior so that there are no closed-off rooms, more long vantage points so that I can see the kids from where I am, and to make it easier for entertaining, more conducive to a modern way of living. And we didn’t change a single exterior wall. The home looks as it did on the outside for many decades.

PWP: Aren’t you afraid of foregoing the opportunity of selling the house as a tear-down for a huge financial windfall? What if someday you really need the money? And do you think it’s fair that others couldn’t avail themselves of such an opportunity as well?

It’s the very hypothetical you’ve given that convinces me how important these kinds of protections are. There are all sorts of ways to justify short-sighted financial decisions, when the reality is that there’s something greater that we’re working towards, in terms of preserving what’s really special about our community. I wouldn’t be seeking out a historic home if I didn’t have those values. I feel very strongly about this issue.

There are plenty of other homes in this community that don’t have historical value. There’s no lack of a variety of housing across this market. There are plenty of Magic Players’ dream homes out there. It’s not the city’s responsibility to guarantee its citizens’ rights to make an obscene profit, at the expense of the community. A home to me is not a profit center. It’s a place of enjoyment. A place to value while you’re there.

PWP: That’s your opinion. But is it fair to force that on others?

Community is important. I don’t care just about myself. I care about my neighbors, and building community for my family. I want my children to know what it’s like to be a part of something bigger than themselves. This is just how I live in all areas of my life. I don’t just think about what I want for myself, but about the people around me, and the impact that my actions have on them.

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LIVING IN THE FLOW OF HISTORY

In recent months, as a revised historic preservation ordinance makes its way toward the Winter Park City Commission, there’s been a lot of buzz about historic districts, and whether they constitute an all-out assault on property rights. Common charges against districts include that they’re overly restrictive; that you must consult a governing authority before making even minor changes to your home; that they decrease property values; and that homes in historic districts rot in disrepair while new development buoys surrounding neighborhoods.

In the spirit of getting it straight from the horse’s mouth, Preservation Winter Park sat down with four residents of three different homes in designated historic districts. Were these homeowners happy living in historic districts or did they feel overly regulated? What had happened to their property values since the district was formed? If anyone had thought about the benefits and perils of living in a historic district, it would be these folks. Over the next few weeks, the blog will be featuring our discussions with them. First up:

THE FAIELLAS

faiella3Jim and Elizabeth Faiella live in a charming 1925 Victorian-style cottage on Lakeview Drive in the College Quarter, right across the street from Lake Virginia. Elizabeth, an attorney, bought the house in 1988, about 15 years before the neighborhood was designated a historic district.  She raised two sons in the 3/3 house which, at less than 2000 square feet, seems surprisingly spacious. She and Jim, a retired construction estimator, married in 1992. They savor time spent with their large blended family, whom they entertain in their cozy home many Sunday afternoons. “There’s no getting away from one another, and we love it,” he smiles.

Preservation Winter Park: What do you like most about Winter Park? What do you think makes it so special?

Jim: I think the older homes, the tree canopy, and you feel safe here. Growing up in the era that I did, everybody sat on their front porch; people walked by and chatted. And it’s the same thing here—people walk by, and you know everybody, and if you don’t, you introduce yourself. It’s a living neighborhood, as opposed to other places, where there are all these big, huge homes but there’s nobody around. Those neighborhoods look vacant to me—like a façade or a movie set almost. I just love this area. I hope that the City will preserve the older homes and not let people come in, buy an old house, tear it down, and then build something so out of character that it damages the neighborhood.

I think when people come from out of town, and they walk down Park Avenue, visit the park and drive through the neighborhoods, they see houses like the old houses on this street and they fall in love with it. I don’t think they fall in love with the big shoebox homes.

Elizabeth: I was thinking about this yesterday, when I went to get a dress hemmed at Yuki’s, and had my nails done next door, and I FAIELLAQUOTEwalked there. And I thought about Rome, which has a rule—their rule is you can’t build any building taller than the Vatican. And what’s happened is that this has helped make Rome one of the most beautiful cities in the world. They had a rule, and they’ve stuck to it. Paris had an amazing planner under Napoleon, Baron Haussman. They have these wide boulevards, and keep building heights low, and it’s still one of the most beautiful cities in the world, because they’ve stuck with the plan. And in Winter Park, we have this, in a way, and we cannot screw this up. When this gets encroached on, it makes us nervous, because you’re giving up that village feel. I have a quality of life that is amazing. I literally live like a European, where I can walk to my office, walk to the farmer’s market, wherever I want to go with the exception of grocery shopping. All this, and I’m right across the street from the lake, where I watch the sunrise every morning, see an otter on the lawn, and an owl in my backyard. It is a real privilege to be able to live like this.

PWP: What do you say to people who say, I should be able to build whatever I want to on my property?

Elizabeth: To me, that’s like saying I should be able to smoke in a restaurant if I want. At a certain point, you exercising your rights infringes on mine to such an extent that the law says “No you can’t.” You can go build a brand spanking new community somewhere else. If you want a community that doesn’t have any traces of the past, nothing from the men and women who lived there many years before you, there are options for you. But what attracts people to a community like Winter Park are the visible reminders of the past, where they can feel their place in the continuity of life, the flow of history. You can’t recreate that when it’s gone. You can’t build history from scratch—even though they try to in places like Celebration. You have a commodity here that is irreplaceable. That’s why we can’t just say, “That’s OK. We can just tear it up piece by piece.”

PWP: Do you have any sense of what’s happened to property values in this neighborhood, as a designated historic district?

Elizabeth: Yes, I have a good indicator. Through my life, there are times when I need to take out a home equity loan. It depends on how my business is going. Some years are good, and some are not so good. So they reappraise your house when you have a home equity loan. This house has steadily increased in value over 25 years. And around me, I darn well know what it’s done. The house next to me has sold about every five years. And I’ve watched the value increase by leaps and bounds each time. The house on the other side of me just sold for a million—when I first moved here it was $195,000. Neither one of them has been touched much.

PWP: You have an amazing (lakefront) lot here, and you’re just around the corner from Park Avenue. Aren’t you afraid that someday, when you might need some money, that a former Backstreet Boy or Orlando Magic Player might come along and say “I need this lot for my dream house. I’ll pay you double the market value.” And you’ll have to explain to him that it will be difficult if not impossible to get permission to knock it down because it’s in a historic district?

Elizabeth: I’m not afraid of that. That is not my thinking. The idea that it would be difficult to do that is reassuring for me. The people that come after us, if we don’t protect it, will have no concept of where we came from. And this matters.

We have a home in Italy in the little village where Jim’s grandparents came from. It was a fixer-upper of major proportions. A tree was growing in the middle of it—we’re talking, bats living inside, practically ruins. We reconstructed it from the inside out. We could not add a window or door or anything on the exterior because the historic preservation law.

Jim: All the homes in that area are the way it was 900 years ago. Prior to that there were wars, et cetera, but all of the architecture appears as it did 900 years ago.

PWP: Was that a major pain in the neck? Did you resent that intrusion?

Jim: It was exciting and it was wonderful. The reason we bought a home that was 900 years old was because you could live in a place where 35 earlier generations had lived.

The Faiella Home, College Quarter

The Faiella Home, College Quarter

PWP: What would you say to someone who said, “Well, I can see how that’s historic—900 years old, but in Winter Park we’re talking about buildings that at the oldest are 120 years old.”

Elizabeth: Well, where do you start? When do you start preserving history? We’re a younger civilized country. The idea that we wouldn’t start because we got started late? That makes no sense. It’s never too late to do the right thing.

PWP: I know you owned a house over on Antonette that you needed to make some structural changes to. How was going before the Historic Preservation Board? Was it difficult? Did they give you a hard time?

Jim: No. The bottom line was, they said, “don’t change the exterior from the street.” The back we could do some things, and structurally we did some things under the house. We added a few walls, and added on in the back, to make the house more livable. But we didn’t change the façade or the look of it at all.

Elizabeth: Look. Living in a historic district is not for everybody. If you don’t like the feeling of it, playing by the rules, there are ample places you can live, where you can isolate yourself and do what you like on your property. But if you want this, the places you can live in Central Florida are very few. Why would we want to allow that to be changed? The property values in Winter Park are maintained because of this, not in spite of it. If you’re not swayed by preserving the soul of the place, the comfort, the quality of life, then at least pay attention to the economics.

Lots of times in our society, a law might crimp the style of an individual, but for the greater good, we make rules. Historic preservation is done for the greater good.

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Preservation Challenges in Winter Park: What Would Tocqueville Think?

By Jack C. Lane, Emeritus Professor of American History

I

There are several ways of comprehending the reasons why it has been difficult to preserve Winter Park’s built heritage. One way is to see Winter Park as presenting unique challenges. The city is a preferred destination for newcomers and in many cases itinerants. When they think about the past (which, as we shall see, is not often) their memories are of their “home,” of some other place or places where they have roots. Their attachment to Winter Park’s over one hundred and twenty-five year old past is at best tenuous and very possibly non-existent. As Central Florida has grown, it has gotten increasingly difficult for people of ordinary means to afford to live in Winter Park. And while the wealthy are attracted to Winter Park for its charm and historic ambiance, they typically aren’t willing to put up with the small bathrooms and closets and other design challenges of say, historic Virginia Heights’ little nineteen-twenties bungalows. This is to say, they like living in a historic community, but don’t really see a role for themselves in preserving it.

This historic bungalow was demolished to make way for...

This old Winter Park bungalow was demolished to make way for…

...a larger house with more updated features.

…a larger home with more modern features.

Then, there is the matter (not unique to Winter Park) of multiple competing interests who are affected by historic preservation: real estate developers, commercial investors, neighborhood residents, certain politicians and others who believe preservation threatens their interests. Not surprisingly, preservationists find it difficult sledding in the face of these contending, often contentious, influential groups.

But there are two other considerations that reach far beyond the local struggle in Winter Park. Very often controversies in a small community in this country reveal deep-seated American social pathologies. In the effort to save historic buildings and neigh-borhoods in Winter Park preservationists have come face to face with two embedded American characteristics that add additional burdens to their efforts.

tocquevilleThe first is the age-old American conflict between individualism and public good. As early as the 1830s, the famed political theorist Alexis de Tocqueville astutely commented on the dynamic, but potentially destructive, individualistic behavior of most Americans. Tocqueville is careful to distinguish between individualism and “egoism,” or in today’s parlance, self-centeredness. Egoism, Tocqueville argued, is instinctive, an innate human characteristic. On the other hand, individualism is a learned trait that sees public world and the private world as two separate spheres. The average American, Tocqueville observed, is “disposed to withdraw himself into a circle of family and friends and with this little society formed to his taste, he gladly leaves the greater society to look out for itself.” When interest in the public world (which the Founders called “public virtue”) wanes, self-centeredness becomes the dominant preoccupation. If and when that public world impinges on private interests, (as with the attempt to create historic districts) then individualists are aroused in opposition, often raising the cry of “violation of property rights.” Such claims, however, frequently mask the deeper sentiment of individualism, that is, the belief that the right of individuals to do as they wish with their property is more important than the public good of preserving historic landmarks and neighborhoods.

The second factor militating against historic preservation (and closely tied to the first) is the American disinterest in the past. From the beginning, this continent was settled by people who fled their past, by those determined to remove history from their lives. Subsequently, settlers moved west with the same intentions: to excise the past and to turn their eyes to the future. In an 1839 article one writer saw the United States as “The Great Nation of Futurity,” “with no connection to the past.” Today we are the heirs of this ubiquitous indifference toward history. It is no accident that, compared to Europe (the Old World), America (the New World) is a country with few monuments or ruins—that is, without visual evidences of the world of our ancestors. In Europe (for that matter most other societies), historic monuments daily remind even the simplest farmer or worker of the spirit and accomplishments of their ancestors. In America, those built evi-dences of the past are often demolished to make way for new structures. As a result, visual memory of our forebears’ legacies fade and then vanish. Our ties to the past are thereby diminished.

In a culture whose predominant concerns are individual rights and whose eyes are fixed primarily on the present and future, arguments that historic preservation protects Winter Park’s tradition, heritage, and legacy seem weak and abstract, and those advocating historic preservation are viewed as blocking progress, and even un-American.*

II

Often historic preservation becomes vitally personal and to see or not be able to see a landscape of past experiences can have enduring consequences. Here are two stores to illustrate the point:

woman in gold

“Woman in Gold” by Gustav Klimt

At the end of the movie, “Woman in Gold,” Maria Altmann (played by Helen Mirren), pauses for a moment after the recovery of a painting stolen by the Nazis and at the time housed in the Austrian national museum. Instead of celebrating her victory, she leaves her lawyer and visits the spacious Vienna apartment where she and her family had lived before expulsion by the Nazis. Scenes from her joyful family life come flashing into her mind (and on the screen) as she moves from room to room, emotionally recalling some of the most memorable moments of her childhood life. The recovery of the painting was not enough to excise the anger that had been festering since she had been forced to leave her anguished parents in one of those very rooms. To replace those harrowing memories with the carefree ones of her childhood years, Altmann sensed that it was necessary to experience personally her former home. As she moved from room to room she finally came to terms with her Vienna past, and could now move forward without anger.

The second story is a personal one and has a less gratifying conclusion. During World War II my father, who was too old for the draft, secured a job in a defense factory on the Gulf coast of Texas. The family moved there in February 1942. After a period of homesickness, I adjusted to my new community of Brazoria, made many close friends, and thus spent three very pleasant years there. At the end of the war, my family moved back to our original home. In the subsequent years I retained vivid memories of the little town (population about 2,000), the houses on our street, the church around the corner, the dairy at the end of our long block and the fields where we played football and baseball. In 1985 my sister and I drove from her home in Houston to revisit our ex-periences in Brazoria. After forty years I expected to see some changes in the little town. What I did not anticipate was the absence of any recognizable evidence of our past. Every feature of the natural and built landscape that I had known and remembered had vanished. No original buildings had been left standing. I had wanted to walk down the streets, to reminisce with my sister about our experiences, but there was nothing left to remember. A part of my past had disappeared along with that entire original landscape. I still had visual memories in my mind but the longing to attach those memories to something concrete remained unfulfilled. I left with an unexpected empty feeling as if a part of my being had been violated. I still have not come to terms with my disappointment.

"Old" Winter Park represented by 161 Cortland, now demolished

“Old” Winter Park represented by 161 Cortland, now demolished

What connects these two stories and the embedded American traditions hindering historic preservation is how critical a sense of place is to both our public and personal identity. No pictures in our minds can replace the way familiar landscapes and well-known buildings are capable of awakening the memories, good and bad, of our past experiences. Thus when we demolish the

New Winter Park: replacement home at 161 Cortland
“New” Winter Park: replacement home at 161 Cortland

historic natural and built landscapes of Winter Park, we are robbing ourselves and future generations of the innate hunger to have tangible, visual encounters with the past. Moreover, if, as everyone seems to agree, historic landmarks in Winter Park are the city’s most attractive (and lucrative) feature, demolishing these historic treasures is the equivalent to using seed corn make soup. In time the very factors that make the city attractive will have vanished. Perhaps the only way to persuade those who oppose historic preservation for ideological reasons and those developers who oppose it for material gain is to convince them that historic preservation is even in their self-interest. But don’t hold your breath waiting for conversion. The best way to secure our historic landscape is (in the Lord’s words to Job) “gird your loins” for the work ahead and elect friends of preservation to public office.

(MEMO TO PRESERVATIONISTS: Please interpret the foregoing essay as a historian’s effort to make sense of the unyielding opposition to historic preservation. As a committed preservationist I would like to have written a more encouraging essay. Historians, you know, have the luxury of interpretation without responsibility and without obligation to offer solutions, or so we tell ourselves.)

Dr. Jack C. Lane moved to Winter Park in 1963 to join the history faculty at Rollins College.  He has authored several books, including The Florida Reader: Visions of Paradise, which he wrote with Rollins English Professor Maurice O’Sullivan. Now retired, Lane lives on Lake Virginia in Winter Park and serves on the board of the Friends of Casa Feliz.

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Sarah Susanka: The “Not-So-Big” Author Has Not-So-Small Ideas on Preservation

Susanka addresses the Colloquium audience

Susanka addresses the Colloquium audience

Sarah Susanka may have written the “Not So Big” series of architecture books, but she’s a woman of big, bold ideas.  On May 16, the architect and author shared her wisdom with a Winter Park audience of 250 at Casa Feliz’s 9th Annual James Gamble Rogers Colloquium on Historic Preservation.  Susanka’s nine books, which revolve around the theme of quality over quantity in home design, have sold well over a million copies.  Her ideas have the potential to change not only how we design our homes, but how we plan our cities, and even prioritize our lives.

Susanka squeezed an amazing amount of wisdom into her 90 minute lecture, but we’ve excerpted some particularly memorable gems here:

Lakeview Avenue home on Colloquium House Tour

Lakeview Avenue home on Colloquium House Tour

On Winter Park’s College Quarter and historic neighborhoods: 

“It’s the quality of the scale of each of these (houses) in relation to each other is what gives these places their charm…the older houses have a ‘come and meet me at my porch’ feeling that is largely absent in new houses today.”

On Historic Preservation:

“Preservation is about allowing your community to have a sense of history that you can feel palpably every day…We all know the cities that we love the most and it’s because of that.  And your community has that.”

On a (formerly) historic neighborhood in Illinois, and tear-downs:

“This is what happens when people don’t understand about the proportions and the character of the neighborhood being the point. What’s sad is that people moved there because they loved it.  But then they didn’t understand what it was that they were loving…the property value was very high, so every professional said to the homeowner ‘you need to build at least this much square footage…because of the land value’…What happened?  The very fabric of the community, which is why people wanted to live there, disappeared. This is my fear in communities around the country, and I know this is something that (Winter Park) is grappling with.”

On New Home Design:

“You can’t always say ‘no tear downs.’  So when there is a tear-down, (it’s important to focus on) how to make that new house fit into the neighborhood.”

“We are building our living rooms for people we’d rather not have in our houses.  We are told by all the professionals who are supposed to be guiding us that we have to have these big rooms that we really don’t use anymore.”

“A ‘Not So Big’ house is 1/3 smaller than the house you thought you needed, with the dollars reapportioned to quality over size.”

 “The core values of what people are hunting for – beauty and balance, harmony, home as sanctuary, sustainability and well-being—are totally absent in most of the new houses being built today.”

On the importance of architects:

“We are very attuned to space but we have no language for it.  So just like having a musical ear,  we can all appreciate music to one degree or another, but most of us don’t know how to write a piece of music.  Architects are like musicians of space.  We use the space to create particular qualities, and that’s what people fall in love with.  All these beautiful old bungalows were designed originally by architects…what you’re loving is actually good design.  That’s why they work and why they have worked for such a long time.”

Antonette Avenue bungalow on Colloquium House Tour

Antonette Avenue bungalow on Colloquium House Tour

On the “trap” of being taken in by a floor plan:

“A floor plan tells you zero about how a house will feel. For the feeling, you need information about the 3rd dimension, the heights of everything, and that’s where the feeling starts to come in.  No wonder people are building house after house and are frustrated.”

 “Ceiling height and the shift in ceiling height makes all the difference in the world. And I’m not talking about ‘tall, taller and tallest.’  I’m talking about a shift in articulation from 7 feet to 8 feet.”

On “too big” spaces and building to a human scale:

“The other piece of this that is so critical is that we have to build to our human scale…you can look at a photograph of a massive space and it can look pretty..but if you were trying to live in that room, you’d be in an echo chamber.”

“One of the challenges with these big houses is that we don’t have any of that feeling (of occupying the space).  We feel tiny…An 18 foot ceiling is wonderful for a state capitol but not for your family room. Because you can’t feel like you occupy that space.  You can be in awe, but do you want to be in awe in your family room?”

“People want a house that fits them more like a suit than a sack.”

On the importance of beauty in architecture:

“Beauty matters! We can build the greenest house there is, but I can tell you right now that if it’s not beautiful, it’s not sustainable, because we won’t want to look after it.  Never underestimate the value of making something beautiful.”

On Infill Design in Neighborhoods

susanka

Susanka shares her big ideas

“There are going to be situations where someone’s living in a beautiful neighborhood like Winter Park and they want double the space.  There is still a way to do it so it fits with the existing neighborhood…this is what I call being a good neighbor, where you’re recognizing what is needed to fit in.  It’s letting people know that you’re aware of the beauty of the neighborhood and you want to fit in.  It doesn’t have to look identical but the proportioning, being in scale with your neighbors, is so, so important.”

On why many planned communities fail:

“Doing it from scratch is a real challenge. It needs to have a flavor of organic growth.  That’s what makes it come alive. There are many new urban communities that do that, often by having saved particular trees or a particular anomaly in the landscape that then becomes the focal point and allows other organic idiosyncrasies to happen all around it.”

On Life:

“Life is much simpler than we think. Life is just the experience of what’s happening right now…we don’t have to argue with it, we can just be here.  And that’s where the joy is.  Ask yourself, “what inspires me?” And it doesn’t have to be something enormous—it can be gardening…and give yourself permission to do just that.  Believe it or not, that is the bridge to a sustainable future. Extraordinary things happen by paying attention to what your heart loves to do.”

You can watch Susanka’s entire Colloquium lecture by clicking here:  https://vimeo.com/129314854


PLUS! Winter Park Awards First Ever Historic Preservation Awards

At the 2015 Colloquium, four property owners were honored with the city’s first annual Historic Preservation Awards.  Genean McKinnon, a member of the Winter Park Historic Preservation Board, presented awards to the following:


Excellence in Residential Renovation – The Annie B.  Johnston, 834 Antonette Avenue

Recipients:  current owners Rick and Wendy Hosto

Johnston House - before

Johnston House – before

The house was built in 1926 for Annie B. Johnston. The bungalow is a historic

Johnston House - after

Johnston House – after

resource in the College Quarter Historic District.   Over almost 80 years of occupancy, the bungalow suffered from an application of inappropriate siding and a poorly built addition.  Suzanne Fisher acquired the house in 2005. She removed the siding and improved the front porch access, restored the interior of the house   and replaced the failing add-on in keeping with the historic Craftsman architecture. The historic house was fully renovated in character and prepared for decades of enjoyment.  Ms. Fisher opened the house for the 2014 Colloquium tour which focused on restored homes.  The current owners, Rick and Wendy Hosto, recently purchased the house from Ms. Fisher.


The Coop - before

The Coop – before

Excellence in Commercial Renovation – The COOP by John Rivers, 610 Morse Boulevard

The Coop - after

The Coop – after

Brad Watson, 4Rivers Director of Real Estate & Construction, received the award on behalf of John Rivers

“It’s never too late to mend” (mural on The COOP’s patio wall) expresses the philosophy that guided the sensitive renovation of 610 West Morse Boulevard.  The building had been Mike Hage’s Market in the middle of the last century.  First renovated by John Spang for the East India Market after standing empty for a time, it would later be occupied by a series of tenants who were not always so considerate of the vernacular commercial building.  John River had the foresight to reimagine the building as the perfect place for his new southern style restaurant, The COOP.  He brought the building up to current code standards added a lively vintage inspired sign.  The COOP’s adaptive reuse and renovation preserve the building’s unpretentious character and honors Hannibal Square history.


Kummer-Kilbourne House

Kummer-Kilbourne House

Excellence in Adaptive Reuse –Kummer- Kilbourne House by Allen Keen, Keewin Properties, 121 Garfield Avenue

Parkland International Realty President Hal George, contractor, received the award on behalf of Allen Keen

In the early 1900s, Kummer Lumber was located behind the 1916 house which faces Central Park.  It served as the home of owner Gotthilf “George”  Kummer and his descendants for almost 100 years.  Kummer’s grandchildren spurned many offers to sell the only house in the upscale Park Avenue Corridor after their mother’s passing until they found a buyer they trusted in Allan Keen.  A space in a big glass box office in the suburbs isn’t for everyone.  The house and the detached garage were meticulously restored for Keewin Properties’ business offices.  The house was placed on the Winter Park Register of Historic Places in 2004 and is included in the Downtown Winter Park National Register Historic District.


John Spang & grandson

John Spang & grandson

Lifetime Achievement –In Remembrance of John Spang

Mrs. John “Cissy” Spang, owner operator of the Park Plaza Hotel, received the award given in remembrance of her husband John Spang.

A dynamic visionary and Winter Park advocate, John Spang contributed to the revitalization of downtown and Hannibal Square at a time when businesses were moving to new suburbs and shopping malls.   John Spang had a different vision.  He and his wife Cissy arrived in Winter Park in the 1970s.    Recognizing the intrinsic charm of historic but faded downtown, he opened the East India Clothing Store on Park Avenue followed by the East India Ice Cream Parlor. He acquired the former Hamilton Hotel and Grill and revitalized it as the stylish Park Plaza Hotel and Park Plaza Gardens restaurant.  When the 1920s Alabama Hotel closed, John Spang had the vision to reimagine the once grand winter escape as condominiums.  He pioneered revitalization in Hannibal Square by opening the East India Market and Coffee Emporium in the former Mike Hage’s Market building where he became a master coffee roaster before coffee shops were “cool”.  John Spang will be remembered for infusing new life into Winter Park’s historic buildings so residents and visitors can enjoy them today.

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DEAR NEXT MAYOR OF WINTER PARK:

Dear Next Mayor of Winter Park,

Let us be the first to congratulate you on your victory, even before you’ve won!  We at Preservation Winter Park and the Friends of Casa Feliz look forward to working with you on matters of import to our city.  Before you get too giddy over your hard-won $3,000 annual salary, realize that there’s hard work ahead.  As you approach your inauguration, we hope you will consider the following:

  • Your job is to manage growth, not create it. If you asked 100 residents of Winter Park what they love about their city, we doubt one would answer “its growth potential.”   This is because people are attracted to Winter Park for what it is—an oasis of calm and traditional community in the midst of an area defined by urban sprawl, traffic, and strip malls.  People move to Winter Park because they love what it is, not what they hope it will become.  The Pacific Northwest adopted this mindset decades ago, and it hasn’t hurt them one bit.goose
  • Protect Downtown Winter Park: There are certainly areas of Winter Park that could benefit from redevelopment.  But the downtown business district is not one of them. It’s our soul, and it’s our cash cow.  In other words, don’t allow anyone to kill, maim, or expose to avian flu the goose that laid the golden egg. This may seem like it goes without saying, but we know from past experience that the prospect of a big short-term gain can cause the advancement of some astoundingly bad ideas.  See: Hotels, Carlisle. See also: West Meadow, Paving.
  • Know whom you serve: Approach potential developments with the question of “Will this project improve the quality of life for our residents?” and not, “How can we make this work for the developer?”  The posture of our planning department too often seems to be to work with the developer to manipulate and bend the code so that it allows him to do what he wishes with his property.  The buck stops with you.  Consider that the developer may just be operating to maximize profit, not in the best interests of the residents you were elected to represent.extraordinary care
  • Please build with extraordinary care: Regarding growth, it will come, whether we like it or not, given the bustling economy of Central Florida. However, we are in the enviable position as a city to be very particular about how that growth and development will occur.  We have a very scarce commodity in Winter Park: developable land.  This means that we call the shots, not the developers.  It’s time Winter Park had an Architectural Review Board.  This isn’t snobbery, or a restraint of trade.  It’s just good sense.  Many of the places known for their attractiveness—Charleston, Old Town Alexandria, Coral Gables, Santa Barbara, Santa Fe—have them.   Winter Park has a terrific crop of architects that would be delighted to serve.  There should be no commercial building erected in Winter Park that isn’t extraordinary.boiled frog
  • A frog on the stovetop boils one degree at a time: Relaxing zoning for one small lot can seem like not such a big deal.  But when viewed in totality with all of the other zoning variances granted over time in a neighborhood, it can tip the scale.  What’s the harm of increasing the allowed density on a lot when it’s already R-4 directly across the street?  And then next week, we might as well rezone the lots next door, too.  A couple months later, let’s go ahead and take the block.  You get the picture—before too long, you’ve got a boiled frog.lawsuite fear
  • Good policy decisions aren’t made with the guiding principal of lawsuit avoidance. Yet if an outsider were to observe the planning and zoning process in Winter Park in recent years, he might conclude that our city motto was Parco cause procul totus sumptus (Latin for “Avoid lawsuits at all costs”) rather than “The City of Culture and Heritage.”  The city opened itself up to a lawsuit when it stayed the demolition of Casa Feliz, then a private residence—but it was the right thing to do.  The city DID get sued when it denied the final permit for the construction of the Carlisle Hotel.  Would we be better off now if we had taken the path of least resistance? It’s hard to find folks who say, “You know, this park sure would be nicer if it had a 4-story condo complex looming at the edge.”
  • Incentivize Historic Preservation: For a city with the historic assets that Winter Park has, you’d think we might have a historic preservation code that encourages rather than discourages preservation.  The existing ordinance does allow historically-designated properties to have garage apartments and some relaxation of setbacks on additions.  But this hasn’t been enough to incentivize large numbers of historic homeowners to register their properties.  There are lots of ways to sweeten the pot: how about a reduction in utility fees for registered homes? Eliminating permitting fees for remodeling projects or tree removal?  Rebates for making a historic home more energy-efficient?  Low-interest loans for commercial rehabilitations?  The Getty Foundation produced a wonderful resource on historic preservation incentives for the City of Los Angeles: http://www.preservation.lacity.org/files/GCI%20-%20Incentives%20for%20the%20Preservation%20and%20Rehabilitation%20of%20Historic%20Homes.pdf.  It’s time to adopt some of these ideas in Winter Park, and reward the folks who are working hard to preserve the architecture that benefits all of us.

Celebrated author Bill Bryson describes the wisdom of preservation thusly:central park 2

“ [Traveling] makes you realize what an immeasurably nice place much of America could be if only people possessed the same instinct for preservation as they do in Europe. You would think the millions of people who come to Williamsburg every year would say to each other, “Gosh, Bobbi, this place is beautiful. Let’s go home to Smellville and plant lots of trees and preserve all the fine old buildings.” But in fact that never occurs to them. They just go back and build more parking lots and Pizza Huts.”

In sum, may your next three years be more about planting trees and preserving fine old buildings than Pizza Huts.

Yours Truly,

Preservation Winter Park

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CANDIDATES WEIGH IN ON HISTORIC PRESERVATION

In politics, it’s rare to find a candidate who claims to be against historic preservation.  You’d get just about as far running on a platform condemning motherhood and apple pie. Similarly, it’d be pretty dumb to announce that you don’t value private property rights—unless, perhaps you were running for something in North Korea.

But what about when historic preservation appears to be in conflict with an individual’s right to dispose of his private property as he chooses?  For instance, are you still a preservationist if you think the government has no right to delay the demolition of a National Register-worthy private home? How much do you value your community’s roots if you think that historic preservation should be 100% voluntary?  It’s not unlike saying you want a balanced federal budget, but they better not touch your entitlements.  Historic preservation, like fiscal responsibility, can require difficult choices.

With these nuanced questions in mind, Preservation Winter Park set out to gauge the level of commitment that the candidates running for elected office in Winter Park have to historic preservation.  As the ultimate decision-making authority on city ordinances and contentious planning and zoning issues, our city commission wields significant power in determining whether our historic assets are valued and preserved, or are afforded no more protection than any other city real estate.

On January 14, we contacted the four candidates currently running for elected office in Winter Park–Steve Leary and Cynthia Mackinnon, candidates for Mayor; and Gary Brewer and Greg Seidel, candidates for City Commissioner.  We asked them to submit their answers to a questionnaire developed by our advocacy committee, and promised to print their responses in our blog.

Leary

Leary

Leary, the only candidate who is a sitting Commissioner, declined to answer the survey on the advice of city attorney Larry Brown.  In reference to the fact that Casa Feliz is in its 10th year of a 99-year lease with the city, Brown advised Leary thusly: “Although you may comment on these issues in your campaign as you determine appropriate, you should make your statements in forums that are not provided by entities that are parties to a long term lease with the City. This is because a third party may contend that the extent of leverage or coercive power is sufficient that you have wrongly misused your position for a private political advantage.   I don’t know if the Chamber or other non-profits that have long term leases have also proposed questions, but if they have done that, my advice is the same.”   According to the Leary Campaign Facebook page, there are “confirmed debates” at both the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce and the Winter Park Public Library, both entities in contracts with the City of Winter Park.

We share the responses of the other three candidates, below.

FRIENDS OF CASA FELIZ

CANDIDATE QUESTIONNAIRE

 YES/NO QUESTIONS: Please simply answer “yes” or “no” or “no opinion” to the following questions.

Do you believe that our current historic preservation ordinance adequately protects the city’s historic assets? YES or NO or NO OPINION

Mackinnon: Clearly, given recent controversies regarding some treasured historic homes, our present Ordinance is not designed to balance competing interests and provide a fair method  for safeguarding private property rights while providing an effective means for preserving community assets.

Brewer: YES

Seidel: NO

 

Currently Winter Park has the highest threshold for the formation of historic districts in Florida (2/3 of all property owners must return a ballot in favor of the district). Do you believe this threshold should be lowered to a simple majority? YES or NO or NO OPINION

Mackinnon: Ultimately, citizens must have the right to determine the level of protection appropriate to their neighborhood or district. Achieving the right balance in terms of the approval thresholds is an issue on which we should seek community consensus.

Brewer: NO

Seidel: NO OPINION (Since in some communities, there isn’t a vote required at all, I am not sure 2/3 or simple majority is necessarily the right question.)

 

Currently an application seeking to demolish a historically significant building that has not been voluntarily listed by its owner on the Winter Park Register receives no extra scrutiny than one for a nonhistoric building. Many Florida cities empower their Historic Preservation Boards to lengthen the waiting period for historically significant buildings so that an alternative to demolition might be sought.  Should Winter Park empower its HPB to delay demolitions for buildings eligible for the National Register?  YES or NO or NO OPINION

Mackinnon: My understanding is that there is a task force or work group currently working on this issue. I would like to see the results of that citizen effort and not preempt it.

Brewer: YES

Seidel: YES

SHORT ANSWER QUESTIONS (Please limit your answer to each question to no more than 175 words):

Historic Preservation is more than just saving individual buildings. It is about preserving authentic places, including entire neighborhoods and commercial districts. Many cities use historic preservation as an economic development tool – to create a unique sense of place which is marketable and can attract people to invest, live and work in a place with character and a past. If elected mayor or commissioner, how would you integrate historic preservation into your economic development strategy for the city?

Mackinnon

Mackinnon

Mackinnon: I would look at what other cities have done and apply best practices from communities around the country. There will be broader public support for historic preservation if citizens understand that historic structures and districts add value to a community. I would also engage the public and conduct educational forums on the issues. The question has been framed too narrowly at this point (as “property rights” versus “historic preservation”) to attract wide support.

Brewer:  The historic character of Winter Park is an important element of what attracts people who wish to make this community their home. I believe the City can provide incentives through ad valorem tax credits and develop design guidelines to encourage property owners to preserve important structures and neighborhoods. It has to start with clearly articulating what and why a structure or neighborhood deserves preservation.

Seidel: Historical preservation can be an effective economic development tool, if highlighted in city general promotional (and tourism) material, or via celebrations (eg historical homes days, walking tours with educational brochures, etc), signage (via public works or a CRA). The recent designation of the Maitland Art Center as the only National Historic Landmark in the metro area is likely to attract more out-of-area visitors, and collaboration with Maitland should be a priority, as the Museum is investing heavily to attract new visitors that are specifically interested in historical sites.

  

A 2001 survey identified 145 structures in Winter Park as eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. Since that time, 13 of these structures have been demolished by their owners.  Of the 132 remaining historic resources eligible for National Register status, only 18, or fewer than 14%, are protected from demolition by the Winter Park Register.   As mayor or commissioner, what would you do to help prevent demolition of historically and architecturally significant buildings?

Mackinnon: I would not “prevent” a private owner from demolishing a building if he/she chose to, and would rather encourage a process that is proactive rather than reactive.

Brewer:  Although I appreciate the historic nature of a structure or place and encourage its preservation, the determination to preserve a historic structure must be initiated and sustained by the property owner. I don’t believe the city, state or federal government can or should prevent demolition of any structure unless the government chooses to purchase it.

Seidel: With the caveat that I would need input from the City Attorney as to how much leeway the Mayor or Commission have, as elected officials, we have the ability to educate property owners and their neighbors about the values of historic preservation in terms of community sense of place, civic pride, and increased property values.  As well, educating the public to correct misinformation that many have with regards to restrictions on private property rights under a preservation scenario needs to accompany an effort to increase consideration of historic preservation.  City staff may have already, but if not, could determine if there are other districts that qualify; as with any action perceived to affect private property rights, it may be better to approach en masse, than as individual properties. The Visioning process currently underway by the City is likely to enlighten the Commission on how Winter Parkers feel about historic preservation.

What should the city do to incentivize owners of historic structures to list their properties on the Winter Park Register? What, if any, incentives would you push for as mayor or commissioner?

Seidel

Seidel

Mackinnon: Currently, a group is examining a wide range of possible incentives, and I will support looking around the country for best practices that have produced meaningful preservation efforts.

Brewer: I stated earlier, I would certainly consider an incentive of ad valorem tax credit while the structure is preserved.

Seidel:  With the caveat, again, that I am not expert on what may have already been investigated in this area, there are a multitude of incentives that could be considered.  A question I would have is what steps have been taken to consider any of the approaches that the Bland & Associates report identified in comparison cities.  I was particularly intrigued by the Coral Gables approach of using Transferable Development Rights (TDR) in exchange for historic preservation of rehabilitation. Imagine the tradeoffs of increasing development potential at an underutilized site like the K-mart Plaza and at the same time gaining a restored historical home.  I would need to be better educated on this topic before outlining specific incentives I could push for, but I am aware of many options. Property tax incentives,  increased utility rebates, technical and capital assistance for exterior work, improved or prioritized landscaping on city ROW adjoining historic districts,  and quasi-independent historic trusts are all options, but I am not well-versed enough in this topic to know if any of these are optimal for Winter Park.  I recognize the value of incentives in achieving City goals, and I recognize the value in preserving historical structures. 

 What are your thoughts on the increasing density of Winter Park’s historic West Side and the erosion of single-family neighborhoods there? Do you believe the City Commission and/or the P&Z board should act to curb this trend? If so, how?

Brewer

Brewer

 Mackinnon: I am firmly opposed to increasing density and further eroding the residential nature of the West Side. That neighborhood was platted in the 1880s. I recognize the West Side as historically significant and a community asset. A developer should not be permitted to buy up several single family homes, combine the lots and build a mega-structure with increased density. We do not permit that in other parts of the City. Why would we permit that on the West Side?

Brewer: I believe in an economically diverse community with a focus on neighborhoods with housing options at all income strata. In the 1980’s the CRA addressed many issues improving the quality of life and enhancing property values within the CRA. Before this time zoning in this neighborhood was nearly non-existent. The comprehensive plan and zoning will protect the residential character of this neighborhood.

SeidelI believe we need to protect the community that exists in West Winter Park.  My family personally knows West Winter Park families that are multi-generational in their Winter Park lineage, but lack the fiscal resources to compete with market forces.  I would hope their kids that are growing up with our kids have the opportunity to raise the next generation in their neighborhood if they wish. At the same time, there is a fair amount of what would be considered inferior housing there, and as the properties redevelop, investors obviously want to optimize their return.  I am confident that as a City we can identify ways to preserve this neighborhood without repelling investment.  Assistance with exterior renovations through tax credits may address one half of this equation, while more serious consideration of TDR’s may help address the investor side. Investors will develop where they perceive the maximum return is possible, and this activity can be directed toward areas where the City would like to encourage density with proper incentives.   Overall, I think the City needs a plan, if we expect the West Winter Park neighborhood to survive and thrive. 

 

 

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