Tag Archives: Public policy

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

knowles

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).

lyman project

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.

Open window

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!”

garage

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.

new david weekly

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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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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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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Golden Eggs in an Unguarded Nest: Vulnerable Downtown Winter Park

Historic preservation made the news again recently in Winter Park, when the board charged with overseeing the city’s historic architectural assets voted 5-2 to deny the Grant Chapel’s application for “Historic Resource” status.

The arguments for and against the application presented an interesting case study in historic preservation theory—what is the tipping point when a building’s character becomes so compromised that it ceases to be historic? But the discussion failed to acknowledge the bigger issue for Winter Park, which is how very vulnerable the majority of our iconic historic buildings are to demolition or architecturally ill-conceived alterations.

Heaven on Wheels:

Grant Chapel was built on Winter Park’s West Side in 1935, and served as a house of worship for the predominantly African American population there for almost 70 years.  When the congregation outgrew its location, it was purchased by developer Dan Bellows, who saw the development potential of its prime Hannibal Square location.  For the past few years, Bellows has rented the property to Suzanne and Steve Graffham, who operate it as the “Winter Park Wedding Chapel,” primarily for destination weddings.

In October of last year, Bellows struck a deal with the City of Winter Park, and made plans to move the chapel to its current location, at the Corner of Lyman and New England, across from the Winter Park Farmer’s Market.  Many citizens expressed gratitude that Bellows was moving the chapel rather than demolishing it, although traditionalists complained that yet another of Winter Park’s historic structures was having to move to escape the wrecking ball. The City’s preservation strategy sometimes appears to be ‘Move it or lose it.’

The deal specified that the new location for the Chapel would be re-zoned commercial if Bellows agreed to list the Chapel on the Winter Park Register of Historic Places, ostensibly protecting the structure from future hi-jinx.

After its December move (eclipsed somewhat by the dramatic maritime Capen House move), the chapel was remodeled to include the addition of a basement, with two staircases descending from the front façade.  The new location features fairly elaborate hardscaping, in contrast to the humble, leafy lot where the chapel once resided.  Here are the before-and-afters:

Before the move, New England Avenue

Before the move, New England Avenue

 

After the move, Lyman and New York

After the move, Lyman and New York

At the August meeting, it was apparent that these changes did not sit well with the HPB. The members who voted against designating the chapel as an historic resource argued that the front façade had been too dramatically altered with the addition of the basement, and that the building’s repositioning as a ‘faux gateway’ to the West Side took it out of its historical neighborhood context.

The staff report (see pgs. 6 and following of : http://cityofwinterpark.org/docs/government/boards/agendas/HPB_agd_2014-08-13.pdf) acknowledged these changes, but recommended that the chapel be designated nonetheless, given that its significance primarily derives from the building’s historic use and not its architectural integrity.  Several HPB members also expressed annoyance that the board had not been consulted before the structural changes were approved by city planning, and that it was a foregone conclusion that the building would be designated despite such extensive alterations.

“I was shocked to see all the changes,” remarked board chairman Randall Glidden, who voted against designation.

“I resent being put between a rock and a hard place,” complained board member Candace Chemtob, who also voted to deny historic status. “I’m kind of shocked this is coming to us after such huge alternations have been made.”

Board member Genean McKinnon expressed dismay that the planning department was aware of the changes that were being made, but didn’t inform the HPB until they were faits accompli, although she ultimately voted in favor of the designation. McKinnon agreed with staff that the building, even in its altered state, is better off protected than not.

Board members are justified in their frustration with the dramatic changes made to a historic structure, and that there were loopholes in the agreement Bellows struck with the city wide enough to drive a bulldozer through.  The agreement stated:

The owner agrees that on completion of the move, the Property and Grant Chapel Church Building shall be listed as a historic landmark property, and governed by Chapter 58, Land Development Code and the Winter Park Historic Preservation Commission. As such, the owner will not demolish or alter the Grant Chapel Church building structure in architectural style or integrity without the consent of the City.

But here are the ambiguities: should the City have had the right to put the kibosh on the basement addition, or was it OK for Bellows to add it since the chapel wasn’t yet officially on the Register? And does “consent of the City” mean the HPB or just the city planning department?  Because we all know that in Winter Park, until a structure has been voluntarily listed by its owner on the historic register (and apparently, the ink is dry), the HPB and city are legally powerless to protect a historic building from incompatible remodeling or demolition.

The Bigger Picture:

The Grant Chapel case shines a bright light on other historic treasures in Winter Park, indeed buildings on which the city’s reputation as “charming, historic Winter Park” rests, that are completely vulnerable to the whim of the property owner.

Did you know that while downtown Winter Park is a National Register Historic District, there are zero—count ‘em, ZERO—buildings in the ‘shopping district’ of Park Avenue that are on the Local Winter Park Register?   And though it seems counterintuitive, it’s the LOCAL register, not the National, that provides a building protection from alteration or demolition.

Greeneda Court

Greeneda Court

Consider Gamble Rogers’ celebrated Greeneda Court.  It’s not unfathomable that a developer might one day conclude that an open courtyard on Park Avenue doesn’t generate any cash flow and fill it in.  The 1882 Ergood Building (now Penzey’s), the Union State Bank Building (now Peterbrooke), the Pioneer Store (now Be on Park) and the Hamilton Hotel (now the Park Plaza) are protected from ruin only by the goodwill of their owners.  Which is to say, they’re one bad sale away from serious peril.

There’s not a single structure on the Rollins campus on the Winter Park Register. Are the Knowles Chapel and Annie Russell Theater on the Rollins campus safe?  One would think so.  Yet the college’s decision to raze gracious Strong Hall, designed by the celebrated architectural firm of Kiehnel and Elliott in 1939, to build a new, larger dormitory in 2013 does not bespeak a sensitivity to history, even though the Rollins website claims that the replacement dorm “has been designed in the Edison (sic) Misener (sic) tradition.”  See this interesting report of the original building’s dedication in 1939 by then-President Hamilton Holt: http://archives.rollins.edu/cdm/compoundobject/collection/archland/id/643/rec/9.

Strong Hall how it was

Strong Hall how it was

Strong Hall today

Strong Hall today

The equally beautiful Corrin Hall suffered a similar fate.  So, while buildings like the Knowles and the Annie might be considered sacrosanct, if I were Mills Memorial Library or the College Arms, I’d make sure my affairs were in order.

Not to spread hysteria, but Central Park is equally unprotected.  Is it ludicrous that the City would allow something to threaten what is by any objective measure, the most valuable historic resource in the city?  Any skeptics should see:  Hotels, Carlisle.

Yet any of these eventualities could be avoided if the City had the foresight to do what scores of other cities in Florida have done: to designate the contributing structures in the downtown central business district, and even on the Rollins campus, as historic on the local register, with or without the permission of the property owner.  Is this heresy?  A violation of our inalienable freedoms?  If so, then Palm Beach, Delray Beach, West Palm Beach, Tampa, and Coral Gables, just to name a few, are under the rule of totalitarian regimes.

Winter Park – both the politicians and property owners—may not have the stomach for designating an historic commercial district if the property owners don’t desire it. But if this is the case, we can’t be ‘shocked’ when a property owner compromises a treasured building’s historic design to increase profitability.  What’s more, we better have the stomach to tell our grandchildren that downtown Winter Park used to be a place with a lot of historic charm.

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Debunking the Myths of Historic Preservation & Baking Brownies

developerbulldozerhippieOn controversial issues, it’s not unusual—particularly in this internet age of unsigned comments by aliases–to find the public discourse fraught with misinformation and deliberate deception.  Discussions of historic preservation are particularly plagued by hyperbole and scare tactics.  Preservationists are wild eyed sentimentalists who want to rob Americans of their inalienable property rights.  Conversely, developers just want to steamroll everything in the name of the almighty dollar, without regard for history or beauty. In an effort to bring transparency and honesty to the discussion, Preservation Winter Park hereby sets out to debunk the following Top Seven Myths About Historic Preservation (in Winter Park):

“Myth: Winter Park isn’t really that old, so historic preservation is kind of irrelevant.”

Reality check:  Of course, everything is relative, and it would be disingenuous to ascribe to the Winter Park City Hall building the same historic significance as the Pantheon.  Still, by Florida standards, Winter Park is very historic—incorporated in 1887, it’s the 54th oldest of the 410 municipalities in Florida.  In fact, it’s older than other Sunshine State cities known for their historic cache’, such as Palm Beach (est. 1911) and Coral Gables (est. 1925).  It’s Winter Park’s historic sense of place that makes it such an attractive place to live and to visit.  As residents, we benefit not only aesthetically from our historic surroundings, but economically in terms of tourist dollars and property values.  Too, it’s important to note that today’s older house can be tomorrow’s historic treasure.  Mount Vernon wasn’t yet 100 years old when preservationists insisted on saving it in 1858.

“Myth: If I put my home on the Winter Park Register, I’m going to have to ask permission every time I want to move an electrical outlet or change the wallpaper”

Reality check:  This common misconception confuses the interior of a registered structure with the exterior, and overstates the oversight powers of the city’s Historic Preservation Board (HPB).  Only changes that would affect the exterior envelope of a registered structure require approval by the HPB.  Whereas the current ordinance states that “character-defining features should not be changed, destroyed, or obscured,” the HPB works with homeowners who wish to expand or remodel to find workable solutions.  According to Lindsey Hayes, the city’s Historic Preservation Officer, “the board understands that people live differently today than they did in the 1920s.  We will work with folks to accomplish their goals for their homes.”

“Myth: If a house isn’t architecturally exceptional, then it really shouldn’t be protected.”

Reality check:  Certainly design integrity is one factor in determining whether a property is historically significant, but the Winter Park Park Register–taking its cues from the National Register–also aims to protect buildings that are associated with an important figure in city history, that represent a significant pattern or style in our city’s development,  or that are likely to yield important information about city history.  From an historic standpoint, it’s important to preserve homes popular in the various stages of the city’s development (e.g., bungalows in the College Quarter, or Folk Victorian homes along the south shore of Lake Osceola) as well as the homes of important city figures like James Seymour Capen or Charles Hosmer Morse.

“Myth: That building is on the National Register, so it’s already protected from demolition.”

Reality check:  Contrary to popular belief, the National Register offers listed properties no protection from alteration or destruction. It’s counterintuitive, but depending on the ordinance, a property typically enjoys much stronger protection from a local register than from the National Register. The signature barrel tile roof of Casa Feliz, listed on both the National Register and the Winter Park Register, could be topped with Islamic spires and the National Register’s only recourse would be to remove it from its roster.  The Winter Park HPB, however, wouldn’t sanction something so architecturally and historically ill-advised.

Residence by Steve Feller

Residence by Steve Feller

“Myth:  All old construction is good; all new construction is bad.”

Residence by Phil Kean

Residence by Phil Kean

Reality check: Yes, a common argument for preservation is that the new building that replaces the historic building is often of inferior design and quality.  And while an entire blogsite could be filled with pictorial proof of this maxim, there is plenty of really wonderful new construction going on – both residential and commercial.  Preservationists do the movement a disservice by blindly eschewing anything built past 1940. In Winter Park, for example, the architect Steve Feller is known for building beautifully designed, traditional homes of quality craftsmanship and materials.  Some of the contemporary homes built by architect Phil Kean also demonstrate mastery of scale and detail. Many communities, resigned to the ebb and flow of new replacing old have established Architectural Review Boards that enforce design standards for new construction.  Winter Park would be well-served by the creation of such a board.

“Myth: Preservationists in Winter Park want to make it impossible to demolish any structure over 50 years old.”

Reality check:  It’s true that policies under consideration would apply a greater level of scrutiny to demolition permits for buildings over 50 years old, to bring the city’s practice in line with those of Certified Local Governments around the state.  The Friends of Casa Feliz Advocacy Committee Report recommends that the city’s Historic Preservation officer personally review any demolition application for a house that is more than 50 years old or one that is listed on the Florida Master Site File. The HP officer would judge the house for its historic significance according to the standards  in the city’s ordinance, and make a determination of whether to immediately sign off on the permit or to refer it to the HPB for further review.  In cities that use this system, most demo requests for buildings that are not historically or architecturally significant (e.g., a 1950s cinderblock rancher or a 1960s split-level, which are plentiful in number and not particularly unique) are granted without delay .  Clifford Smith, Sarasota’s HP Officer, states that the “large majority of demo permits are approved without ever going before the (HP) board.” Smith also asserts that knowing the review process exists discourages developers and spec house builders from pursuing truly historic homes as tear-downs.

“Myth: Houses on the historic register are worth less because they can’t be sold as tear-downs.”

This common misconception persists despite considerable empirical evidence to the contrary. Multiple studies have shown that houses located within protected historic districts increase in value at a faster rate (or in an economic downtown, lose value at a slower rate) than their non-protected counterparts. A 2005 study on property values in Philadelphia concluded “Strong and clear increases in property values after designation were documented in all five of the neighborhoods studied”  (see: http://repository.upenn.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1032&context=hp_theses).  A 2007 study found that “Home values rose 5% to 35% per decade in more than 20 historic districts nationwide, compared with home values in undesignated neighborhoods in the same communities.” (see: http://www.preservationnj.org/site/ExpEng/images/images/pdfs/Historic%20District%20benefits_Mabry_%206-7-07.pdf).  This all makes perfect sense, according to Ken Bernstein, manager of the Office of Historic Resources for Los Angeles.  Bernstein writes “Historic district designation gives potential homebuyers two rare and economically valuable assurances: that the very qualities that attracted them to their neighborhood will actually endure over time, and that they can safely reinvest in sensitive improvements to their home without fear that their neighbor will undermine this investment with a new ‘monster home’ or inappropriate new development.”

Let’s make one of our New Year’s Resolutions to elevate discussions of historic preservation above the level of name-calling and hyperbole.  We can agree to disagree, but Winter Park should make intellectual honesty one of our guiding principles.

Story Update:

This weekend, I made good on a promise by delivering a batch of fresh-baked brownies to the couple who just closed on the 1935 house featured in our October 18 blog post (see: https://friendsofcasafeliz.wordpress.com/2013/10/18/wont-you-be-our-neighbor/).  The house’s previous owner, an elderly widow living out of state, was weighing offers from developers who planned to raze the house and subdivide the lot.  Enter John and Rachel Grogan, who gravitated to Winter Park because of its “New England charm.” The Grogans, who spend their summers in New Hampshire, have their work cut out for them to bring the 1935 plumbing and wiring up to 2014 standards, and have a couple additions planned.  Still, as Rachel walks through her new home, she overlooks the grime-coated wood floors (which will be stripped and refinished this week) to effuse about the built-in niches, fabulous heart pine ceilings and custom ironwork.   Having seen what the Grogans accomplished in the home they left behind in Orlando, I know we all have a before-and-after blog to look forward to before 2015.

Is there an historic house in your neighborhood that’s for sale and vulnerable to the wrecking ball?  Maybe Preservation Winter Park can help!  In the meantime, I’m happy to share my recipe for what I’m calling

“Preservation Brownies”

1  pkg.  (4 oz.) unsweetened Chocolate
3/4  cup  butter
2  cups  sugar
3  eggs
1  tsp.  vanilla extract
1  cup  flour
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

HEAT oven to 350°F.

GREASE WELL, THEN FLOUR 13×9-inch pan.

MICROWAVE chocolate and butter in large microwaveable bowl on HIGH 2 min. or until butter is melted. Stir until chocolate is completely melted. Stir in sugar. Blend in eggs and vanilla. Add flour then chocolate chips; mix well. Pour into prepared pan.

BAKE 30 to 35 min. or until toothpick inserted in center comes out with fudgy crumbs. (Do not overbake.) Cool completely.

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HP TAKES CENTER STAGE AT CITY HALL

Artist’s rendering of what’s to come!

Historic Preservation became front page news a few months back when the 1885 Capen House, one of Winter Park’s oldest, was threatened with demolition.  The good news is that, as it did 12 years ago with Casa Feliz, the local community has risen to the challenge of raising the money to relocate the historic home.  Before the end of the year, one of the city’s oldest homes will be floated across Lake Osceola by barge, from its location on Interlachen Avenue to its new home on the grounds of the Albin Polasek Museum, where it will provide a much-needed expansion to museum operations.  Funds are still needed for renovations, but the house has been saved. Hallelujah!

Yet amidst all the high-fiving—and indeed, this is occasion for enthusiastic celebration—let’s not neglect to keep our eye on the bigger issue:  fixing the system that imperiled the Capen House to begin with.  Behind the scenes, the city’s Historic Preservation Board (HPB), made up of 7 citizen members and staffed by city planner Lindsey Hayes, is working on a proposal to revise the City’s historic preservation ordinance.  The HPB will bring their recommendations to the City Commission, who will make the final call on changing the ordinance.  If all goes well, we’ll no longer have to move our historic buildings around to avoid the wrecking ball, like the world’s most expensive chess game.  No one wants to change our motto from the City of Homes to the City of Mobile Homes.

Annie Russell House 1926-2005

Annie Russell House 1926-2005

To this end, the City hired the consulting firm Bland and Associates to produce a study to benchmark Winter Park against other cities, and recommend how we can incorporate best practices into our historic preservation policy. Miles Bland presented his recommendations to the HPB on November 14; an audience of about 50 Winter Park residents attended the public meeting.  If people came to the meeting thinking that the city’s hired consultant would soft pedal and mollify, then they were surprised by what they heard.  Bland was as subtle as a bulldozer—according to the consultant, the City’s ordinance must undergo extensive surgery to ensure the survival of its historic assets and reputation.  He urged the board in the strongest possible terms to make changes now to the ordinance, or else get used to seeing a wrecking ball in the City of Culture and Heritage. Click here for a synopsis of the report: http://cityofwinterpark.org/Docs/Government/Boards/Other_Info/BlandAssociatesPowerpoint_2013-11-14.pdf

A second study, this one by the Casa Feliz Preservation Advocacy Committee (CFPAC), rose out of an examination of the ordinances which govern historic preservation in 38 Certified Local Government cities (CLGs) around Florida.  The CFPAC report can be seen here:  https://casafeliz.squarespace.com/advocacy-report/

Here’s how the two reports compare on three critical HP issues:quote2

 DISTRICT FORMATION:

  • CFPAC REPORT: Instead of the current requirement that 2/3 of property owners approve the formation of a historic district (the highest such threshold in the state), lower the requirement to a 50% “no” vote by property owners.  This would bring the city’s ordinance in line with others around the state, and will facilitate the creation of historic districts, which not only protect the character of the neighborhood, but increase the property values.
  • BLAND REPORT:  Remove any requirement that residents in a proposed district vote to approve the district.  Decisions on the formation of historic districts should be recommended by the HPB and approved by the City Commission—resident input should be sought and considered, but in the end the authority to form a district should rest with the Commission. According to Bland, “(property owner) voting is not the norm, quite odd, and certainly counterproductive to historic preservation; it is analogous to allowing public determination of residential speed limits. This voting element of the code is the crux of WP’s historic preservation problem.”

logo-city-of-wp DEMOLITION PERMITS:

  • CFPAC REPORT: A permit to demolish all or part of a 50+ year-old or FMSF-listed home would only be issued after a thorough review by the city’s Historic Preservation Officer.  After reviewing the application, the HP Officer could sign off on the permit (if it was determined that the building was not historically significant by stated standards), or refer the case to the HPB.  The HPB could approve the demolition, or require that the applicant make efforts to sell or otherwise preserve on site or move the historic structure.  A delay of demolition could also be ordered, which would allow time for mitigation. Only after the HPB is satisfied that reasonable efforts have been made to preserve a historically significant property would a demolition permit be issued.
  • BLAND REPORT:  Similar to the CFPAC opinion, Bland recommends a much more stringent process for demolitions of buildings more than 50 years old.  He warns in his report that “historic structures were sparse to begin with in WP, and are being lost at a staggering rate; about 1.2% of the NET, known historic structures are leveled each year, and this rate is accelerating. If the historic structure density drops too low, then historic districts can never be formed due to loss of spatial continuity.”

 APPOINTMENT TO HISTORIC PRESERVATION BOARD

  • CFPAC REPORT: Institute more stringent qualifications for appointment to the city’s Historic Preservation Board.  Winter Park’s ordinance is the only one of the 38 ordinances studied by the committee that does not require board members to have knowledge of or experience in architecture or other related disciplines.
  • BLAND REPORT:  Like the CFPAC report, Bland advocates for specific professional and educational qualifications for service on the HPB.   Without such language, Winter Park is unable to qualify for Certified Local Government status, which would provide the city with educational and grant opportunities for historic preservation projects.

It’s expected that the HPB will make its recommendations for strengthening the ordinance early next year. It will then be in the decision of the five City Commissioners how to proceed—whether to put teeth in our historic preservation policy, or to remain laissez faire.  Without a doubt, any meaningful changes to our ordinance will be met with outrage by property rights advocates, who want us to believe that the city’s intervention in HP is tantamount to government “taking” of private property.  They neglect the inconvenient truth that virtually every other Florida city blessed with historic structures manages to strike a reasonable balance between private property rights and preservation.  Good public policy requires operating in the ‘grey’ area between seemingly conflicting goals.  Let’s hope Winter Park is up to the challenge.

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Why Historic Preservation Needs Government: the free market can’t do it all

In discussions on historic preservation, it’s common to hear someone say, “I love architecture and history, and think it should be preserved. But it’s not the role of government.  Historic preservation is best left to the private sector.”   Some take it a step further.  Recently, the Orlando Sentinel published an editorial by Dan Peterson, executive director of the Coalition for Property Rights.  In his editorial Peterson states, “A municipal government telling an owner he has no right to demolish a standing structure in order to build a new one is dictatorial and, in fact, unlawful.”

Indeed, there have been fine examples both locally and internationally of the private sector’s providing solutions for threatened historic properties.   Did you know that Mount Vernon isn’t owned by the federal government?

Mount Vernon: pre-restoration

Mount Vernon: pre-restoration

In 1853, Ann Pamela Cunningham formed the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association to purchase George Washington’s family homestead and rescue it from decrepitude, thus launching the first major historic preservation project in the United States.  The Association operates the home museum to this day.  Closer to home, the Friends of Casa Feliz formed in 2000 to save Gamble Rogers’ masterwork, when consensus couldn’t be reached for the city to own the project.  The Morse Foundation has painstakingly preserved Osceola Lodge, the 1883 Craftsman style home of city pioneer Charles Hosmer Morse, without city assistance.

There have been more situations, however, where the private sector was unable or unwilling to intervene, resulting in serious threats to architectural heritage.  In some cases, government has stepped into the breach.  A classic example is Stonehenge—in the 1870s, the monument’s private owner, arguing that “it’s not the slightest use to anyone now,” attempted to sell it to a railway company, when the British government intervened by passing the Ancient Monuments Protection Act.

Penn Station 2

Penn Station: RIP

When government doesn’t come to the rescue of a threatened architectural treasure, people almost invariably wish it had.  Following the 1963 demolition of New York’s Penn Station by the private Pennsylvania Railroad Company, public outcry was such that Congress would ultimately pass the National Historic Preservation Act, which empowered States and municipalities to develop plans to legally protect their historic inventory.  Since the passage of the act in October 1966, cities that value their history have established strong historic preservation ordinances.

While we have a preservation ordinance in Winter Park (enacted in 2003), one need only look at the thin roster of designated homes, coupled with demolition records of the past ten years, to conclude that it doesn’t go far enough to protect the city’s historic assets.  The shortcomings of the ordinance include:

  • An unrealistic threshold for district designation:  In order for a historic district to be formed in the city, the ordinance requires that at least two-thirds of the homeowners in the proposed district vote in favor of its formation.  Two districts have managed to get the votes to form districts—the College Quarter and Virginia Heights East.  Others, though, have fallen short because of this threshold, which far exceeds the requirements of other Florida cities.  West Palm Beach, for example, requires no threshold whatsoever for a neighborhood to be designated, nor should it, according to Friederike Mittner, the city’s historic preservation officer.  “We don’t ask the homeowners’ permission for other zoning ordinances,” she said.  “Historic preservation is just another form of zoning.”  That city has 16 districts designated to date, protecting over 3,500 historic homes from demolition.quote for blog 2
  • Insufficient protection from demolition: If a historic home or building is voluntarily listed by its owner on the Winter Park Register of Historic Places, it’s difficult, though not impossible, for a future owner to receive permission to demolish it.   It’s a different story, however, for historic homes or buildings not lucky enough to be owned, or previously owned, by a preservation-minded person.  Specifically, there are  about 700 Winter Park residential and commercial structures on the Florida Master Site File (the state’s official record of historic buildings), yet only about 25% of them are on the Winter Park Register or in a historic district, and thus shielded from demolition.   Thus, if someone were to purchase Gamble Rogers’ Macalaster House,arguably one of the architect’s most acclaimed structures, and raze it, there would be absolutely nothing in the city code to impede the process.  Other precious structures with no protection? The Alabama Hotel.   Rogers’  iconic arte moderne Jewett House.  Sandscove on Via Tuscany. The 1902 George Wright House, the oldest house in the historic Hannibal Square neighborhood, currently being marketed as a tear-down.  The list goes on and on.  

    Macalaster House on Alexander Place

    Macalaster House on Alexander Place

In Sarasota and many other cities that value preservation, it’s not so easy to demolish a historic home, even one not listed on the local register.  Sarasota’s Senior Planner, Dr. Clifford Smith helped draft his city’s ordinance which he says “makes it very difficult to demolish a house on the State Master Site File.”  To knock down a historic home, the owner must demonstrate to the city that he or she has explored every potential option for saving the home, including selling to another buyer, remodeling, and relocation.  If the board is satisfied that these options have been exhausted, they may grant a demolition permit after a waiting period of 120 days.  According to Smith, these regulations make it so difficult to raze a historic home, that in the five years since the policy was written, only a handful of historically significant residences of the 3,500 listed on the Florida Master Site File have been lost.

  • Serious Qualifications for Historic Preservation Board:  If a city takes preservation seriously, its ordinance should outline meaningful qualifications for service on the board that administers its ordinance.  Presumably,  the majority, if not all, of its members should have professional experience in architecture, construction, or history, or have a demonstrated passion for preservation.  In West Palm, for example, the HP ordinance specifies the following about selection of its nine-member board:  “Two members of the full board shall have professional degrees in architecture, at least one of whom shall be a regular member. A minimum of two members shall be chosen from among the disciplines of architecture, history, architectural history, archaeology, landscape architecture or planning. A minimum of two additional members of  the board shall be experienced in the areas of commercial development or real estate, banking or law. Three other members, including the two alternate members, shall be from any of the foregoing professions. Two members shall be citizen members at large. All members shall have demonstrated a special interest, experience or knowledge in historic preservation or related disciplines.”  By contrast, here’s what Winter Park’s ordinance specifies about board members’ qualifications: “Must be a City of Winter Park resident, one of which is an architect.”

There is a role for private citizens and organizations in historic preservation.  But arguing that there’s little place for government in historic preservation is akin to saying that government shouldn’t engage in zoning, or road-building, or park maintenance—that if the private sector values these things, they’ll happen.  We know this not to be the case.  Cities around the country that have been successful in preserving their sense of place have one thing in common:  a strong preservation ordinance enforced by a city government that values its historic resources.  Right now, Winter Park’s Historic Preservation Board has been charged by the City Commission with reviewing the city’s ordinance, and making recommendations to strengthen it.  Let’s hope that ambitious enough changes are proposed by the board—and accepted by the commission—to endow the city with the clout necessary to save our architectural heritage.  Because assuming the free market and a weak ordinance will adequately protect a city’s character and sense of place will, well…you know what they say about assuming.

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