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  • Writer's pictureFlorida Trust

Florida Trust Urges Building Design Bill (SB284/HB55) Language Updates

We are working again this year to recommend language to proposed legislation regarding local design regulation to protect autonomy in historic designated districts statewide

Historic neighborhood without design review in St. Augustine

Companion Building Design bills were filed again this year in the Florida Legislature to prohibit building design regulations by local jurisdictions for residential dwellings with exceptions for individual buildings listed in the National Register, individual buildings locally designated or such buildings designated as contributing to a national or local district.

Last year, on the eve of the pandemic, the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation met with senate and house bill sponsors during legislative office visits to discuss the potential impact of the Building Design bill. We are tracking the issue again this year and will continue to emphasize the potential negative effects, which we feel could include economic and quality of life impacts.

Example of appropriate new residential construction within design review district.

An amendment in the House version recorded on February 10, includes properties located in a National Register District and in a Community Redevelopment Area. These are honorable amendments, but we feel are too exclusive. A CRA and National Register District are stringently identified and managed differently by state and federal agencies. More commonly, communities regulate design areas using local districts and architectural and conservation overlay areas. Each community adds legal protections for these areas its citizens have identified as significant for qualified historic, architectural or environmental purposes, and that the governing body has then codified.

We have suggested the proposed changes amendment follows to the bill (new additions underlined in bold):


1. The structure is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, as defined in s. 267.021(5); is located in, or is a contributing property to, a National Register Historic District; is located in or subject to an architectural overlay zone; or is designated as a historic property or a contributing property to a historic district or other preservation district under the terms of a local preservation ordinance.

The result of overlay architectural or preservation districts promotes a cohesive built environment within historic or architecturally significant areas. Further, the definition of residential dwellings includes single family and multi-family residential housing which will have significant impacts to our traditional and historic Florida communities.

The Building Design bill proposed with HB55 and its companion SB284 in the Florida Legislature maintains the validity of existing private covenants for building design, but this bill will remove those rights and assurances for historic property owners in local regulated districts and overlay zones.

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.

Eliminating design review in these areas which attract increased density and incentives for affordable housing units will reduce community support. In many communities new accessory dwelling units is an attractive bonus for individual property owners and cities are facing an ever-growing challenge of affordable housing in the current pandemic economy. Density and affordable housing are divisive issues in a community and without regulatory control there will be no assurances either would be designed in a way that would be welcoming to potential residents or existing neighbors.

Finally, the buildings excepted from this bill, the most significant individual historic buildings, could be threatened by demolition in order for a future buyer to evade the design review requirements. This is a severe threat to the quality of life for local residents that appreciate the unique character of their neighborhood, 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.

The Florida Trust for Historic Preservation will support amendments to the bill to recognize locally and nationally designated districts as well as architectural overlay zones to ensure that all properties are afforded the same benefits and protections as their neighbor. We do not want to provide incentives for demolition and remove the economic benefits enjoyed by current and future historic property owners. National and local 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 such districts with the express intent to promote architectural harmony and preserve the historic landscape.

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

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.”

She said the city’s architectural overlay areas along the main corridors outside the local historic districts were created to encourage new development in creative ways which matches the unique fabric of the city, versus commercial and residential designs commonplace to Anywhere, USA.

Mark Tarmey, architect, Florida Trust Trustee and Tallahassee resident said, “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 said, “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.”

Historic preservation planner Kelly Perkins and her director Elizabeth Abernethy, AICP, for the City of St. Petersburg find this bill 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.”

Often 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 and does not seek to be restrictive unnecessarily. The federal standards mentioned by St. Petersburg and local guidelines established in communities like St. Augustine allow 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.

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