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  • Writer's pictureFlorida Trust

Florida Trust's Statement on the "Design Review” bill before the Florida Legislature

Updated: Apr 23, 2020

The Florida Trust legislative team visiting lawmakers in January

The “Design Review” bill proposed with HB459 and its companion SB954 in the Florida Legislature seeks to limit architectural review authority by local jurisdictions for single and two-family residences with some exceptions to listed historic properties. The Florida Trust for Historic Preservation met with senate and house bill sponsors during legislative office visits in January and is continuing to track its progress. We emphasized the negative impacts that the bill would have on communities that have designated design review authority for historic districts.

The current text preempts the authority of local municipalities to apply architectural review regulations in historic districts, although individual historic buildings and properties are exempted. ‘Historic properties’ is not defined and therefore the application of this bill would apply to single and two-family developments in a historic district for non-contributing buildings, contributing buildings that are demolished, and vacant lands. The bill is scheduled for the House Commerce Committee Thursday, February 6, at 9 am.

The Florida Trust has proposed an amendment to the bill that would include an exemption for properties in historic districts in effect expanding the exemption to all lands in a historic district regardless of designation. Staff in the sponsoring office of Representative Overdorf took note and expressed support for this change. We believe the plan is for changes to be made at the next committee stop, which is tomorrow. Please support the proposed changes by reaching out to the Chair today.

We urge you to take a moment and reach out to the Chair of the House Commerce Committee, Representative Mike La Rosa, and ask him to make an amendment to HB459 and expand the exemption to all lands in a historic district regardless of designation. Please write to the Chair and any of your local representatives on the committee which can be found here.

It is imperative that the amendment is incorporated to this bill before moving to a vote in either chamber. Local historic districts comprise a small proportion of any community and the process for adopting design review regulations requires extensive public commitment at the local level. To remove this authority is detrimental to the public process that created the historic districts. Property values in residential historic districts have been proven to be more stable during downturns and are more prosperous than the average residential subdivision cited numerous times by PlaceEconomics studies.

Furthermore, historic districts are desirable neighborhoods and property owners seek the protection afforded them when they buy into them because they know their neighbor will have to meet design guidelines for any new construction or alterations. They are also desirable to the creative class and younger professionals which Richard Florida’s book Rise of the Creative Class has identified in his research that they seek unique urban housing options and employment opportunities in close proximity to downtown areas.

Other goals are achieved with historic districts using architectural review as incentive. Compatibly designed affordable housing units would be more welcome in a historic district than the affordable housing units of the past that do not incite a neighborhood feeling because of their industrial and rudimentary design placed in a compound with no neighborhood engagement. Affordable housing, like the creative and young professionals, is most functional nearest to the urban core of a city which inherently is characterized by historic residential structures to avoid expensive and time-consuming transportation to places of employment. So many Florida communities have a productive service industry component and these workers are being priced out of housing options within the city centers where they are employed.

The Florida Trust continues to receive concerns from constituent historic communities across the state and we are poised to continue to press for action, including:

- St. Augustine Historic Preservation Officer Jenny Wolfe, Vice President of the Board of Trustees for the Florida Trust, defended the preservation efforts of the city that has been performed through architectural review during the last fifty years, “Residents and visitors to St. Augustine enjoy the historic landscape of the built environment which has been achieved from architectural review, there would be no Spanish Colonial appearance of St. Augustine above ground if not for design review as much of the original work included residential properties.”

- Mark Tarmey, architect, Florida Trust Trustee and Tallahassee resident emphasized the local examples to Representative Overdorf’s office, “With no architectural review authority for duplex developments the historic single-family residences will be marketed as tear downs for a more profitable and architecturally incompatible development.”

- Realtor and St. Petersburg City Councilwoman Brandi Gabbard states “I believe that compatibility and character are essential to protecting our quality of life and overall property values. I have seen firsthand the consequence that allowing homes to be built that are out of character with our traditional neighborhoods have caused, including changes in marketability and strife between neighbors. I am first to encourage infill development of parcels where homes are dilapidated. I believe that oftentimes new homes are safer, more energy efficient and can even be more affordable than existing homes even after renovation. The issue is when these homes are placed in our traditional neighborhoods and are so out of place that they become the catalyst for change that ultimately depletes the fabric of what makes a neighborhood special.”

- More specifically, historic preservation planner Kelly Perkins and her director Elizabeth Abernethy, AICP for the City of St. Petersburg identify conflicts with responsibilities delegated to Florida Certified Local Governments under agreements approved by the Florida Department of State: “If this law were to pass, I’m not sure how any Florida communities could retain Certified Local Government status. Our responsibilities as a CLG are to carry out and enforce the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation. Standard #9 calls for New additions, exterior alterations, or related new construction shall not destroy historic materials that characterize the property. The new work shall be differentiated from the old and shall be compatible with the massing, size, scale, and architectural features to protect the historic integrity of the property and its environment. New construction falls under this standard.”

Ms. Abernethy spoke during the last committee meeting on behalf of her city further emphasizing the impacts of this bill on affordable dwelling units and the substantial efforts of her local community to successfully adopt architectural review standards for overlay districts achieved through a local democratic process, “In 2001, a community wide visioning process led to a citywide rezoning in 2007 and adoption of design standards for all development types in all districts. These design regulations are intended to preserve the character of our distinct neighborhoods and promote compatibility for new homes. We do not regulate color or architectural style, but a designer must choose one style, and homes need to be finished on all four sides.”

Often times architectural design standards have been perceived as overly stringent and baseless. The Florida Trust along with its constituents recognizes that historic preservation is about managing change in compatible fashion and does not seek to be restrictive unnecessarily. The federal standards mentioned by St. Petersburg and local guidelines established in communities like St. Augustine allows for compatible change for objective reasons outlined in extensive reports and studies by expert historic architects, historians, and archaeologists. They are not baseless and implemented as a matter of taste or personal opinion.

Lastly, without changing this bill it is very likely to result in the unnecessary demolition of exempted historic structures to allow for replacement structures that do not have to meet architectural standards. This is a severe blow to the quality of life for local residents that appreciate their historic character, to the local tradesmen with unique skills that work on these structures, and to the real estate values and heritage tourism economy so widely recognized across Florida.

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