What's that noise? Shrieks echo through Winter Park as city considers changing historic preservation standards


Two of Winter Park's best-known preservation "successes" – the Casa Feliz and the Capen House, above – had to be moved to new sites in order to prevent the new owners from simply tearing them down. - PHOTO BY RICHARD REEP
  • Photo by Richard Reep
  • Two of Winter Park's best-known preservation "successes" – the Casa Feliz and the Capen House, above – had to be moved to new sites in order to prevent the new owners from simply tearing them down.

You may have heard shrieking sounds coming from Winter Park recently as the city considers changes to its historic preservation standards. The city's Historic Preservation Board is considering recommendations to make demolition more difficult, which would make designating/preserving a new historic district much easier. The proposed changes to the ordinance will be discussed at two public meetings this Thursday, May 7, at 9 a.m. and 7 p.m., at the Winter Park Welcome Center.

In 2014, a consultant analyzed Winter Park's historic preservation ordinance and basically said (I'm paraphrasing here):
  1. It's too easy to tear stuff down.
  2. It's too hard to form a historic district.
  3. Anyone who breathes can be on the HPB board – which is wrong; there should be some qualifications required.
Naturally, the real estate development community is fearful this might hurt their ability to make a quick buck on McMansions, restaurants and shopping centers. So all sorts of intramural backbiting on Facebook and in local media has appeared.

The emotional tone of the objections caught those who favor quality over quantity off-guard. To change the historic district from being a supermajority (67 percent) of homeowners in the candidate district to a mere majority (50 percent plus one) seemed a logical revision to respect the democractic process. So far they've received 35 letters against changing the ordinance, and three for changing it. Friends of Casa Feliz executive director Betsy Owens points out:

It is more difficult to form a historic district in Winter Park than in any other Florida city. Other Florida cities–including Sarasota, Jacksonville, and Ft. Myers–that have a voter threshold that must be reached to form a historic district set that threshold at a simple majority of votes received, or require that 50% of property owners in a proposed district return a “no” vote to defeat designation. In other cities, such as Orlando, Coral Gables, Tampa, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, historic districts are formed by the City Commission, not by homeowner vote. Lowering the threshold to a simple majority homeowner vote not only will bring Winter Park in line with other cities that value their history, but with all other Winter Park policies that just require a majority vote.

Property values in Winter Park are already high, and going higher thanks to its consistent focus on quality of life. Even for those who do not live in historic homes, the "wealth effect" of living in Winter Park has cachet. Realtors sell "historic character" when talking to buyers about the area, but this historic character is actually difficult to protect.

Read more on this topic at Richard Reep's blog and at the Friends of Casa Feliz blog.


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