Changes to St. Pete’s historic designation process are four years in the making and will have to wait just a little while longer.
Council members approved on first reading an ordinance that would make it easier for neighborhoods to apply for historic designation, but opted to hear the measure’s second reading at a much later meeting.
Rather than scheduling the ordinance’s next stop at its April 16 meeting, council will wait until July 23 in order to give the city’s preservation department a chance to host workshops and outreach events.
The idea is to get more public input and clear up what some believe may be a series of misinformation.
At issue is a major change to the city’s historic preservation ordinance that would require only a simple majority in order to file an application with the city to designate the neighborhood “historic.” Currently neighborhoods have to achieve two-thirds of the neighborhood’s support in order to do that.
The rule is part of the reason that, of all the city’s seemingly historic neighborhoods, only three have the official designation.
Old Northeast has tried and failed. Supporters of the city’s efforts see this change as a way to finally get their names on the board of history.
But critics argue such a change would pave the way for a series of unintended consequences. Think expensive exterior home maintenance and costly window repairs.
“How will this affect young families or older people who have been in their homes for a long time?” asked Old Northeast homeowner Theresa Richardson.
She noted that there is an array of looming questions still unanswered in her neighborhood. Will it make home ownership more expensive? How will it affect selling homes? Will insurance go up? Will homeowners be able to install solar panels?
“The vast majority across the city don’t know the implications of these proposed changes,” said Bob Griendling, who has organized a petition asking the city to delay its decision.
The vote to do just that will surely come as a welcome to the 153 supporters who signed his petition on change.org.
But it’s not a win for everyone. Former City Council member Jeff Danner spoke in favor of moving the measure forward quickly.
“People who are opposed to this need to recognize when these came forward, we gave them a start time and an end time,” Danner said. “You can’t come at the end and say you didn’t hear about it.”
And Derek Kilborn, the city’s manager of urban planning and historic preservation, cleared up some of the questions.
First, the change does not mean a neighborhood can get historic designation with merely a simple majority vote. City Council would still have to approve the designation and would be guided by Kilborn’s department.
He also pointed out that the update to the city’s ordinance provides some clarifications and even perks for homeowners. It requires the minimum age of a single location seeking designation to be at least 50 years old. Currently there is no minimum.
Homeowners in homes with historic designation would see the current cap on an ad valorem tax break lifted, maximizing the money they could save on property taxes.
The policy would also provide more clear instructions about what to submit when seeking a certificate of appropriateness for renovations and other construction.
While Kilborn said there would be some instances where home maintenance and improvement in historic landmarks could be more expensive, he downplayed the significance of that, pointing out that cost would really be determined on a case-by-case basis.
But council member Karl Nurse, who lives in an 89-year-old home, said it really can be “dramatic.”
“The windows are the area where we are in the most danger of handicapping people forever,” Nurse said.