Dispelling one myth after the next, a panel of experts exposed the truth about historic preservation to a crowded room at the Winter Park Community Center.
The three panelists, who spoke October 29 at an event co-hosted by the Winter Park Voice and Friends of Casa Feliz, were Kathleen Kauffman, Historic Preservation Chief of Miami-Dade County, Christine Dalton, Historic Preservation Officer of the city of Sanford, and Richard Gonzalez, AIA, immediate past president of the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation. The panel was moderated by Senior Orlando Sentinel Columnist, Beth Kassab.
First came the news that Winter Park isn’t special in the struggle to save its heritage. Throughout Florida, rising land values are luring investors who gobble up older, smaller homes and replace them with massive, profit-making structures.
McMansions Thrive in Expensive Dirt
“It’s not just here,” said Kauffman. “It’s everywhere in the state.”
That news may have been small comfort to the more than 80 people attending the informational event. Most seemed concerned about protecting buildings that reflect the city’s heritage. The panel was held eleven days before the City Commission’s vote Nov. 9 to revise its historic preservation ordinance. Missing from the audience were the city staffers and most of the appointed board members, invited because they are involved in preservation decisions.
Property Value Fears Debunked
For those who did attend – interested residents, one member of the city’s Historic Preservation Board, Rebecca Talbert, and one City Commissioner, Carolyn Cooper – the panel had encouraging news, too. Fears about diminished property values and unhappy homeowners turn out to be myths. Cities with strong historic districts have healthy property values, satisfied residents and even happier real-estate agents, the panelists agreed.
Dalton, who described herself as “one of the most pro-development people you’re ever going to meet,” said she has heard claims that historic districts hurt property values, but she said, “That is not at all what we’re seeing” in Sanford.
“I get Realtors’ calls all the time asking, ‘When are you going to expand the size of the districts?'” she said, noting the strong demand for homes in Sanford’s historic districts.
No Documented Cases of Lowered Values
Kauffman said her research found no documented case anywhere that [a historic district] lowers property values. Instead, she found the opposite. People are motivated to buy when they know their investment in a historic home will be protected from the whims of indifferent neighbors, she said. Historic districts also tend to get more attention from City Hall when it comes to services and amenities, like street lights and utilities.
Still Plenty of Room for McMansions
Those who want to build homes not in keeping with historic guidelines still have plenty of choices, said Gonzalez. Most cities in Florida are like Winter Park, with only about five percent of its land considered historic, he pointed out. “So if you want to build a McMansion, go pick on that other 95 percent.”
When Kassab asked if people worry about having less control over their homes, panelists observed that preservation staff typically work closely to help homeowners. Ninety percent of requested changes in Sanford are minor ones dealt with easily by staff, Dalton said.
Preservation Staff Can Help Homeowners Save $$
“Most of the time we work with homeowners, we save them money,” said Kauffman, who regards historic preservation as “one added layer of value protection” for a property owner, rather than additional control. She noted that Miami-Dade doesn’t regulate a home’s interior or changes or additions to the back of a house.
Panelists identified several additional strategies for successful districts — creative incentives for property owners, an independent Historic Preservation Board with qualified members, and commitment to the importance of preservation.
“Getting the right people in positions of leadership is so important,” Dalton said.