Preserving the past
Winter Park City Commissioners aren’t budging on amending an ordinance that many residents believe could divide the community.
The City Commission passed the city’s new historic preservation ordinance on first reading during its Monday meeting with no further changes to the already-adjusted language.
The new ordinance would make the process easier for a neighborhood with historic homes to be named a historic district – a title that offers a barrier of protection to historic buildings. Any alterations, additions or demolition involving historic resources within the district must go before the Historic Preservation Board for review – a fact that leaves many residents believing their property rights could be infringed upon.
But in order to form a historic district, the city’s current ordinance requires two-thirds of the residents within the proposed district to vote in favor.
An original first reading on Nov. 9 saw 46 residents take the podium and speak about the ordinance before City Commissioners Greg Seidel, Carolyn Cooper and Tom McMacken voted to lower the percentage of residents needed to create a historic district to 50 percent plus one – a simple majority vote.
That change, along with 17 other amendments, caused the city to deem the ordinance “materially changed,” meaning it required another first reading.
With Mayor Steve Leary out of town Monday night, the City Commission took a vote with only four members present.
Vice Mayor Sarah Sprinkel made a motion to increase the voting percentage required back to 67 percent, but didn’t not receive support from Commissioners Carolyn Cooper, Tom McMacken and Greg Seidel.
“Everybody knows that I don’t support this the way it is at 50 percent plus one, and it’s not that I’m not a historic preservationist, but it’s my choice to be,” Sprinkel said.
“It’s bothersome to me that anybody could make a decision about something I’ve taken great care of. I just don’t think it’s their business.”
Residents like Bill Sullivan continued to speak against the ordinance, believing their property rights were being overlooked.
“I’m not appreciating the fact that we want to make more rules than what we have,” Sullivan said.
“I would ask that you really reconsider one last time the 51 percent and look deep and make sure that’s where you want to go.”
But that wasn’t the only change denied by City Commissioners. During public comment, Casa Feliz Executive Director Betsy Owens suggested that the ordinance requires at least 90 days of negotiation and communication before a historic home is demolished. The original version of the ordinance provided a 90-day buffer, but that time frame was cut down to 60 days during the Nov. 9 meeting.
“Is it really too much to ask that someone looking to demolish a structure that has graced our community for more than 40,000 days to wait an additional 90 days before leveling it? To give the people in our city a fighting chance to rescue it?” Owens said.
Cooper made a motion to increase the time frame to 90 days, but did not receive support, with Seidel adding that the 60-day period gives the city plenty of time to negotiate.
The City Commission will make a final vote on the historic preservation ordinance at its next meeting on Dec. 14.