For more than a year, the Historic Preservation Board (HPB) has worked to craft an Historic Preservation Ordinance that would be a big step on the city’s path to becoming a “Certified Local Government” (CLG). CLG status would qualify the City for state and federal funds to protect and promote the City’s historic assets.
HPB & Ad Hoc Committee Lead Parallel Lives
During the same time frame, an ad hoc committee of Winter Park citizens with diverse points of view formed to work toward a consensus on Historic Preservation. Committee members were Attorney Frank Hamner, Casa Feliz Director Betsy Owens, Attorney and Developer Dykes Everett, Architect and President of Mead Botanical Gardens, Inc., Jeffrey Blydenburg, Real Estate Broker Scott Hillman and Landscape Architect Stephen Pategas. Together they sought to understand Winter Park’s current regulations, the inventory of historic structures, trends regarding those assets and how Winter Park compares in these respects with other Florida cities.HPB Includes Committee Suggestions in Draft Ordinance
Early this year, the ad hoc committee offered their suggestions to the HPB. Although the HPB did not incorporate all the committee’s suggestions, they did adopt many of the recommended changes and, in February 2015, HPB voted unanimously to approve the draft ordinance.
The next step in the process was to present the draft ordinance to the citizens and receive their input. Two meetings – morning and evening --were scheduled Thursday, May 7, at the Chamber of Commerce Welcome Center.
Facebook Lights Up
Once the meetings were announced, the internet lit up. On Wednesday, April 29, Peter Weldon sent a “Winter Park Perspective” blast email urging residents in bold type to “Take Action to Protect Your Rights.”
“Small Group of Extremists”
“This proposal is being promoted by the Winter Park anti-development lobby,” wrote Weldon, “a small group seeking to impose their values without regard to your values . . . . We cannot let a small group of extremists limit our freedoms or put our equity at risk.”
“First Step Down the Slippery Slope . . .”
And with that, they were off and running. The lively debate that began on the internet spilled into the Welcome Center on the morning of May 7. The first speaker to take the podium was Winter Park resident Brian Thomas, who called the draft ordinance “The first step down the slippery slope.”
Peter Weldon spoke next to express his support for historic designation of individual properties, explaining that his opposition was to the designation of historic districts.
Frank Hamner: “Property Rights Guy”
Frank Hamner, a member of the ad hoc citizens’ committee, rose to explain that the focus of his group was on the educational value of their effort. He identified himself as “a property rights guy,” but said he believed there are historic assets in Winter Park that do need to be preserved.
WP Ordinance Weakest in FL
Casa Feliz Executive Director Betsy Owens, also a member of the ad hoc committee, pointed out there are fewer than 10 districts in Winter Park that would qualify for historic designation. She went on to compare Winter Park’s proposed ordinance with those of other Florida Cities, noting that the proposed ordinance would lift Winter Park from having the weakest ordinance in the state to being “simply among the weakest.”
Commissioners Resist Move to Change HPB
Less than a week later, at the May 11 City Commission meeting, Historic Preservation was again at the forefront. Mayor Steve Leary brought forth nominations for all the boards that had members rotating off. Three of those nominations were for the Historic Preservation Board. Former Orange County Commissioner Bill Segal and Winter Park architect Phil Kean were nominated for regular board seats, and Winter Park resident Laura Armstrong was nominated as alternate.
Commissioner Tom McMacken requested that all board appointments be approved except for the Historic Preservation Board. The Commission voted 3 to 2 to approve the other board appointments and to discuss the HPB nominations separately. Mayor Leary and Commissioner Sarah Sprinkel cast the dissenting votes.
McMacken Urges: Delay HPB Appointments
McMacken then requested that the Commission delay any appointments to the HPB until the proposed ordinance had been brought before the Commission and had been voted either up or down. “I just hate to change pitchers at the bottom of the ninth inning,” said McMacken. “Putting new people on there now sets the dial back, and I don’t want to see [the ordinance] delayed any further.”
A lively discussion ensued in which the Mayor said, based on public comments at the May 7 meetings, he thought perhaps the ordinance should not move forward. Leary argued that the two nominees, Kean and Segal, would contribute to the process.
Commissioners: Don’t Derail a Year’s Work
Commissioners McMacken and Carolyn Cooper emphasized that their objections to the appointments had nothing to do with the appointees. They simply wanted the HPB to have the chance to bring more than a year’s work on the ordinance to a conclusion.McMacken and Cooper argued that one important component of the proposed ordinance has to do with specific criteria for board composition. Compliance with board composition criteria set by state and federal agencies would be necessary for Winter Park to achieve CLG status. Preserving the present composition of the board, even if the number is reduced from 7 to 5, would avoid the possibility of appointing someone who might not fit the revised criteria.
Phil Kean and Bill Segal Turned Down
At the end of the day, the Commissioners voted separately on each of the three nominees. Phil Kean and Bill Segal were voted down, 3 to 2, with Leary and Sprinkel again casting dissenting votes.
Laura Armstrong Appointed to HPB
In a surprise turn, Commissioner Greg Seidel voted in favor of the alternate candidate, Laura Armstrong, whose qualification was that she had once placed her home on the historic register. So Ms. Armstrong took a full board seat, leaving one vacant full board seat and one vacant alternate seat.
Asked why he had voted for Ms. Armstrong, Commissioner Seidel said that she was the only candidate who had mentioned historic preservation on her application.
Back to Facebook
Once again, the internet lit up. Phil Kean and Bill Segal both posted their disappointments on Facebook. Kean wrote in his post,“If you are a citizen of Winter Park, please reach out to the three commissioners that voted me not qualified and let them know that I would make a great board member. They are Carolyn Cooper, Greg Seidel and Tom McMacken. MayorSteveLeary andSarah Sprinkelsupported me. I want to thank you in advance for your help in this.”
Bill Segal had a somewhat more philosophical view on the matter, though he did acknowledge that he was disappointed. He wrote on Facebook, “. . .just remember life is a two way street, everything doesn't have to be all one way or the other, and when you find yourself so passionate about an issue that is not life or death, often it is a good time to listen to new voices, and new ideas. Sounds like the same people have been battling over the same stuff for far too long.”
Steve Leary, still insisting that the vote was ‘about the people’, posted on May 12: “I do not believe it productive to criticize my fellow commission members or theorize on their rationale for voting against Phil and Bill. Rather, I am hopeful that Commissioner(s) Seidel, McMacken, and/or Cooper will reconsider Mr. Kean and Mr. Segal for appointment to the HPB.”
And perhaps they will reconsider – after the ordinance has come before the Winter Park City Commission and has either passed or failed.
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