Commission Moves to Adopt Historic Preservation Ordinance

Final Decision Due in December

Commission Moves to Adopt Historic Preservation Ordinance

At last night’s Commission meeting, a standing-room-only crowd hung in there for nearly seven hours while the Commissioners hammered out a compromise version amending Chapter 58 “Land Development Code” Article VIII, “Historic Preservation.” The main motion, to adopt the revised ordinance, passed on a 3 – 2 vote, with Commissioners Seidel, Cooper and McMacken voting in favor and Commissioner Sprinkel and Mayor Leary voting against.

Eleven Amendments

This was the first First Reading of the Historic Preservation Ordinance (yes, you read that right; there will be another First Reading –- more on that later). Of the dizzying array of 18 proposed amendments, 11 passed.

Historic District Requires 50 Percent Plus One

Of particular note, the threshold for formation of an historic district was lowered from 67 percent of homeowners in the proposed district – or 58 percent, depending upon which version you read — to 50 percent plus one. The minimum number of homes required to form an historic district will be 12.

Second First Reading Nov. 23

City Attorney Kurt Ardaman advised that the number of substantive changes to the ordinance necessitates a second First Reading of the ordinance, reflecting last night’s changes. The next First Reading will be Monday, November 23. At that meeting, the Commission will also discuss recommended incentives for Historic Preservation, a discussion that was tabled at last night’s meeting due to time constraints.

Second Reading Dec. 14, Probably

Because November 23 will also be a First Reading, a re-run of last night’s amendment marathon is possible. In that case, there could conceivably be a third First Reading. If the revised ordinance survives the second First Reading more or less intact, however, there will be a Second Reading at the December 14 Commission meeting. The Second Reading will determine the final outcome.

Historic Myth-Busters

Historic Preservation = Enhanced Property Values

Historic Myth-Busters


geri-2Dispelling 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.

Worth Protecting

Historic Preservation — Reports from the Front Lines

Worth Protecting

WP Voice & Casa Feliz to Host Panel Discussion
Historic Preservation — How Does It Work In the Real World?
When: October 29 – 5:30 to 7:00 p.m.
Where: Winter Park Community Center
             721 West New England Avenue, Winter Park, FL 32789
Moderator: Beth Kassab, award-winning columnist of the Orlando Sentinel.
Panelists are among Florida’s foremost experts on historic preservation.
 
rickgRick Gonzalez, AIA, President of REG Architects in West Palm Beach, is the immediate past chairman of the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation and an accomplished preservation architect. His resume includes the restoration of Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club and the 1916 Palm Beach County Courthouse.
  
kskKathleen Slesnick Kauffman, AICP, Preservation Chief of Miami-Dade County, oversees 127 individually designated sites, 43 archaeological sites and zones, 5 historic districts, and the 24 municipalities within the county that don’t have their own ordinance. She has served as the executive director of the Florida Trust and as the Historic Preservation Officer in Fort Pierce and Lake Park.
christinedChristine Dalton, is the Community Planner and Historic Preservation Officer for the City of Sanford. She is an adjunct professor at Rollins College where she teaches Introduction to Historic Preservation. 
It can seem a hollow exercise to argue historic preservation in the abstract. Does it enhance or diminish property values?  Is voluntary preservation truly effective, or is it the beginning of open season on historic structures? What, if any, is the tangible value of historic preservation in our communities?
Our Panelists all work within communities that have robust, long-standing historic preservation programs. As Winter Park grapples with the role of historic preservation in our community, our panel of experts will share their real-time experiences with historic preservation.
Please join us at the Community Center October 29 for a lively, informative discussion.

How About Community Rights?

How About Community Rights?

 

John Skolfield-2Historic Preservation brings to the fore strong opinions. While anger and emotion speak louder and are more readily heard, a quiet parsing of reality leads to better governance.

Let’s start with the old neighborhoods, homes of the 1920’s. I’ve a picture of ours under construction.  Homes like this were built by individuals with sensitivity to the surrounding neighborhood, born of pride in how one was perceived by friends and neighbors.

The “property rights” rallying cry is a bit curious when it comes from individuals who choose to live in this highly regulated city.  We willingly live with restrictions on setbacks, floor area ratios, height limitations, side wall articulation, etc.   ‘Don’t put your trash cart out a day early lest your neighbors suffer aesthetic degradation!’

Picture in your mind Park Avenue, a beautiful street of historic architecture, and replace all those buildings with downtown Celebration, Baldwin Park or Anytown USA. What do you have?

Would Saint Augustine be more beautiful if centuries-old homes could be replaced with contemporary lot-line-to-lot-line McMansions?  Have the historic areas of Charleston, SC, experienced a decline in value due to “government controls?” Do property owners have a right to replace beautiful with “ugly?”

Razing a slab-on-grade, shallow-pitched ranch house from the 1950s doesn’t warrant the level of community outrage that met the proposed demolition of Casa Feliz or the Capen House.  I get that, but the “art” we speak of stems from a time when home design and, indeed, our value as citizens, was focused outward.  The beauty, the scale and how a home presented itself to the neighbors passing by meant everything.  How the owner was perceived by the community was value enough.

Let us be good stewards of what we have. Let us persevere, and preserve.

Worth Protecting

Historic Preservation — What Does It Mean for Winter Park?

Worth Protecting

The Winter Park Voice and the Casa Feliz Parlor Series will present a panel discussion entitled “WORTH PROTECTING: Historic Preservation – What Does It Mean for Winter Park?

When

Thursday, October 29, 5:30 – 7:00 p.m.

Where

Winter Park Community Center

721 W New England Ave, Winter Park, FL 32789

As Winter Park struggles to balance the seemingly conflicting public benefits of historic preservation and private property rights, we look outside our city for some knowledge born of experience. Come learn from our panel of experts–preservation professionals from around Florida–who can speak to the virtues and the pitfalls of an ambitious preservation program. What has it meant for their cities, and what could it mean for ours?

Moderator

Beth Kassab, Orlando Sentinel Columnist

Beth Kassab - 2014 Orlando Sentinel staff portraits for new NGUX website design.Senior Columnist Beth Kassab is an Orlando native who joined the Sentinel in 2001. She covered local government and the court system as well as tourism and aviation. She wrote the Sentinel’s business column before starting a local column in 2011. As a senior columnist, she tackles subjects ranging from education, transportation and politics to co-existing in Central Florida’s suburbs with bears and coyotes. She also has written about Historic Preservation. Beth won first place in column writing in 2015 from the Florida Society of News Editors. In 2014 she won first place for digital innovation for her series “Central Florida’s Other Best Downtown.” Beth graduated from the University of Florida with a degree in journalism and currently serves on the advisory council for UF’s Journalism College. She lives in Oviedo with her husband and two young children. Her column runs in the Sentinel every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday and is featured on OrlandoSentinel.com.

Panelists

Christine DaltonChristine Dalton, Christine Dalton, AICP, is the Historic Preservation Officer and Community Planner for the City of Sanford

Ms. Dalton attended Goucher College for an M.A. in Historic Preservation, Rollins College for a B.A. in Environmental and Growth Management Studies, and holds an A.S. in Architectural Design and Construction Technology from Seminole State College. She is the staff liaison to Sanford’s Historic Preservation Board, and is the Seminole County Director for the Orlando Metro Section chapter of the American Planning Association.

Ms. Dalton is an adjunct instructor at Rollins College and teaches Introduction to Historic Preservation in the Environmental Studies and Sustainable Urbanism bachelor degree program. Ms. Dalton previously worked for Glatting Jackson (now AECOM) as an Environmental Technician, and is a member of the American Planning Association, National Trust for Historic Preservation, and Florida Trust for Historic Preservation. In her spare time she loves to sail and travel abroad.

Photo by Christian Cerda-Antomarchi

Photo by Christian Cerda-Antomarchi

Kathleen Kauffman, Historic Preservation Chief, Office of Historic & Archaeological Resources, Miami-Dade County

A Coral Gables native, Kathleen Slesnick Kauffman received her undergraduate degree in Historic Preservation from Mary Washington College, in Fredericksburg, VA, and her graduate degree in Historic Preservation from the University of Florida. Ms. Kauffman has served as the Historic Preservation Officer for the Town of Lake Park, FL and the City of Fort Pierce, FL. She authored historic preservation ordinances for both cities. Ms. Kauffman relocated to Tallahassee, FL to serve as the Executive Director of the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation. She has served as the Historic Preservation Chief of Miami-Dade County for the past seven years. She was recently awarded the Henriette Harris Award by Dade Heritage Trust (2015). She is extremely proud of her two daughters Olivia (9) and Julia (6), who keep her busy but entertained, along with their crazy dog Casey, a black Lab/Jack Russel mix.

Rick Gonzalez AIA, Immediate Past President, Florida Trust for Historic Preservation

Rick Gonzalez_resizeRick Gonzalez, AIA, founded REG Architects, Inc., with his father Ricardo in 1988 in downtown West Palm Beach.  Rick holds two architectural degrees from the Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C. and has studied design in Guatemala, Costa Rica, and Italy.  He is currently Vice-Chairman of the Florida Historical Commission and is the immediate past President of the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation.  He has served on the Board of the Maryland Institute College of Art, and the Architectural Advisory Boards of the University of Florida and Catholic University of America.  His association with high-profile projects like Donald Trump’s Clubs at Mar-a-lago, West Palm Beach, Jupiter and Doral, the 1916 Palm Beach County Historic Court House, “The Harriet” at City Place, and the Lake Worth Beach Casino has led the firm to numerous awards for historic preservation and redevelopment.

Board Slogs Through Draft HP Ordinance

Segal Becomes Chairman

Board Slogs Through Draft HP Ordinance


illustration-hp-ordUsing some pretty intense persuasive tactics, Mayor Steve Leary prevailed and his candidates for the Historic Preservation Board (HPB), former County Commissioner Bill Segal, Winter Park resident Laura Armstrong and architect Phil Kean, finally won approval from the City Commission in a 3 – 2 vote, with Commissioners Carolyn Cooper and Greg Seidel dissenting.

 

Segal to Head HPB

At his first HPB meeting on August 12, Bill Segal was elected Chairman by the four members present – which included Segal himself — replacing Interim Chair Rebecca Talbert. Phil Wood was named Vice-Chair. The fourth member present was Genean McKinnon, who nominated both Segal and Wood. Talbert expressed her willingness to remain as either Chair or Vice Chair, but her motion failed for lack of a second.

Once the question of board leadership was settled, the first order of business was a review of the revisions to the draft Historic Preservation Ordinance that will come before the Commission at the November 9 meeting.

Stone and Hamner Champion Historic Preservation

Frank Hamner of the Citizens’ Group that has been working on the draft ordinance presented the latest version to the HPB. During the arduous page-by-page review, Hamner and City Planning Director Dori Stone found themselves in the curious position of defending historic preservation to the very board that is meant to champion the cause.

HPB Is Not So Sure

Discussion among the board members was more about the disadvantages the proposed ordinance would create for individual homeowners than about possible benefits to the City of preserving historic buildings and districts. “Everything we’re doing here creates an added burden,” said Segal.

Hamner pointed out that, unlike other cities, Winter Park has no means, other than the ordinance, to protect a truly historic home.

Segal Balks at CLG Status

Segal expressed concern about the City’s application to the State of Florida to become a Certified Local Government (CLG). He worried about “extra levels of government” and additional reporting requirements. Despite Stone’s assurances that the City already complies with most of the CLG requirements, and that CLG status would not put any appreciable extra burden on city staff, Segal could not be persuaded that it is a good idea for the City to apply for CLG status. “We just don’t know what we’re buying into,” said Segal.

What Is a CLG?

According to Florida Department of State, “Certified Local Governments are municipal and county governments which have made historic preservation a public policy through the passage of a historic preservation ordinance. Participation in the CLG program allows local governments to partner with other CLGs to share preservation ideas and experiences, as well as the opportunity to compete for CLG grants.”

Stone pointed out that the intention to achieve CLG status has been in the City’s Comprehensive Plan for the past 14 years, though the City has never made formal application to become a CLG.

The CLG grants tend to be small — $50,000 or less – but they have their merits. For instance, the last inventory of potential Winter Park historic assets was done in 2001. Since that time, much has changed. We are told there is no money in the budget to update the inventory, but if Winter Park had CLG status, it would qualify for a grant to complete the inventory. The inventory would cost in the neighborhood of $10,000 and is the type of project for which the grants are intended.

August 19: The Slog Resumes

The August 12 meeting ground to a halt shortly before noon, as Genean McKinnon had to leave. With only three members seated, the board no longer had a quorum and could take no action. They resumed the long slog through the revisions on the afternoon of August 19. At that meeting, Dori Stone informed the board that they would receive a completed draft reflecting all proposed revisions, and that they would vote at their September meeting on whether to approve the ordinance.

Once the final draft has been approved by the HPB, it will go for public hearings in October and then for a final vote by the City Commission at the November 9 Commission meeting.

Winter Park: Unique for Not Being a CLG

So far, language stating that Winter Park will seek CLG status remains part of the existing Historic Preservation Ordinance. Sixty-eight Florida cities and 12 counties are Certified Local Governments. Most Florida cities that are known to have historic resources are CLGs – among them Tampa, St. Pete, Miami, Coral Gables, Sarasota, Orlando, and the list goes on until you get to the Ws, where you’ll find West Palm Beach, Windermere, and Welaka . . . but not Winter Park.

Why not?

There appears to be firm conviction on the part of Mayor Leary, some members of the Historic Preservation Board and certain denizens of the blogosphere that CLG status will introduce yet another layer of government and bureaucracy, which will be onerously burdensome to city staff – though city staff doesn’t seem to see it that way. Planning Director Dori Stone, who would be the local official responsible for administering the CLG program, informed the HPB that the City of Winter Park already fulfills nearly all the requirements for being a CLG, and that any additional staff work would perhaps entail an extra 8 to10 hours per year.

What do the Real CLGs Tell Us?

The folks at Preservation Winter Park were also curious about the amount of work required of CLGs and whether the burden outweighed the benefits. They contacted people with firsthand knowledge, among them local officials who administer the CLG program in West Palm Beach, Lakeland, Miami-Dade and the City of Orlando.

This is what they were told.

West Palm Beach: “In no way has it been a burden. One hour a year of completing a report and emailing minutes.”
Lakeland: “To my knowledge, Lakeland has not been burdened by our CLG status whatsoever.”
Miami-Dade: “It’s never been a burden to be a CLG.”
Orlando: Small amount of staff time for reporting to state and National Park Service.”

Is This How You Would Describe Winter Park?

In her email to Preservation Winter Park, Kathleen Slesnick Kauffman, Historic Preservation Chief of Miami-Dade County, wrote: “It is not a difficult or lengthy process to become a CLG, but the whole point of the program is to provide a benefit to cities or counties that have an expressed interest in saving their heritage, and have made it a priority to do so by having a strong preservation ordinance.”

She continued, “Is this how you would describe Winter Park?”

HP Ordinance - Path to Preservation or Slippery Slope?

WP Residents Duke It Out on Facebook

HP Ordinance – Path to Preservation or Slippery Slope?

 

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.

Did City Risk Breaking Law to Keep Report from Press?

Consultant Says WP Historic Preservation Has “Serious & Fundamental” Problems. Report May Not Be Welcome at Commission

Did City Risk Breaking Law to Keep Report from Press?

As 2013 comes to a close, a quick review of Winter Park City Hall news stories reveals that there are several key issues that Winter Parkers seem destined to struggle with.

Historic preservation, Park Avenue restaurant zoning, tree canopy / green space preservation and high-density development are prime examples.

Historic preservation has been front and center during the festive month leading up to the City’s Christmas break, making more than one appearance in the headlines over the last thirty days.

Capen House Voyage & Consultant’s Report Puts Historic Preservation Front and Center.

In December, the triumphant voyage(s) of Capen House across Lake Osceola – saved from the wrecking ball by a dedicated group of citizens and non-profit organizations – is likely to be remembered as an enduring symbol of the community’s commitment to historic preservation. However, the very same citizens who saved Capen House also have been working for months to ensure that the City’s Historic Preservation ordinance is strengthened in favor of homes like Capen House that may be threatened in the future.

The focus of these citizens and various preservation-oriented organizations has been a process that is not unfamiliar to city residents who pay attention to City policy: the long, sometimes tedious business of modifying City ordinances.

Even though the process of modifying an ordinance carries with it a fair share of eye-glazing detail – in Winter Park, the process often includes a bit of drama as well. A case in point is the tense stand-off between Columnist Beth Kassab and City officials.

Sentinel Columnist Beth Kassab Requests Consultant Documents. City Stalls.

At issue were documents created by a consultant, Myles Bland, who had been hired by the City to study and suggest changes to the City’s Historic Preservation ordinance. On November 13, Ms. Kassab had requested an advance look at the report/notes/supporting documents that the consultant had submitted to the City prior to his appearance in front of the Historic Preservation Board (HPB).

Kassab Document Request      Consultant First Draft – 11/5/13

On the day of the hearing, Winter Park Voice also requested a digital copy of the presentation document the consultant had sent to the City.

As of 5:00 p.m. on Thursday, November 14 – the day of the hearing – the City had not fulfilled either request.

Historic Preservation Boss Orders Staff to Stop Talking to Kassab.

A subsequent public records request by the Voice yielded documents showing that the City had received a draft of presentation-related documents from Mr. Bland a week and a half before the November 14 HPB meeting.

We also uncovered an email sent by department director Dori Stone to her staff and Clarissa Howard – on the night before the meeting – shutting down all direct communication with Ms. Kassab:

 

“On behalf of all of the Planning Dept., we will not be communicating directly with Ms. Kassab on this or any other issue in the future. Clarissa, we will attempt to respond to her requests in a timely manner subject to public records rules. As for clarification, I don’t pay consultants to talk to the press on my dime. That’s why we have meetings. If Ms. Kassab has any issues with this, she is welcome to discuss it with [ City Attorney ] Larry Brown.”

Communication Shutdown Email

On Wednesday night, 16 minutes after Dori Stone’s email to her staff, consultant Bland emailed his completed Power Point presentation to Historic Preservation staffer, Lindsey Hayes. The next morning, November 14, at 11:11 a.m., Ms. Hayes forwarded Bland’s Power Point presentation to Dori Stone and Randy Knight, but not to Ms. Kassab.

Consultant Presentation/Report      Hayes Forwards Report to Stone

That evening, at the start of the HPB meeting, Ms. Hayes handed the Voice a hard-copy printout of the consultant’s presentation, stating that she was unable to find a way to send the presentation digitally as requested.

Did City Risk Breaking Law Just to Keep from Being Scooped by the Press?

City documents obtained by the Voice show that the City waited another day – until Nov. 15, the day after the HPB meeting – to post the consultant’s digital Power Point presentation on the City website. On that same day, the City sent the digital Power Point file to the Voice in response to our Nov. 14 request for the “consultant’s report.”

Consultant Presentation Draft – Sent 11/5      Consultant Presentation Final – Sent 11/13

Documents obtained by the Voice – and the sequence of events described above – appear to show that the City understood that press requests for the consultant’s “report” included the Power Point file that Mr. Bland used to illustrate his spoken presentation to the HPB. Email from Ms. Hayes to her supervisor, Dori Stone on Nov. 13, the day before the hearing, appears to confirm that the consultant’s report/presentation was withheld from the press to ensure that the report did not appear in the press before it was presented at the HPB meeting. Here is a key exchange between Ms. Hayes and department head Dori Stone on Nov. 13 referring to Beth Kassab’s request for the consultant’s report:

Hayes to Dori Stone:
“Re emails below – what part of ‘I don’t have a copy’ doesn’t she get and why should the media get an advance copy of a presentation the city paid for?”

Hayes to Clarissa Howard on the same day (also forwarded to Stone):
“…as a matter of process, the HPB should hear the recommendations before they read an edited version in the media.“

Hayes Email to Stone      Hayes Email to Howard

In an effort to clarify the City’s handling of requests for these documents, the Voice interviewed several City staffers, including City Manager Knight. Mr. Knight told the Voice that he was not involved in decisions made by Ms. Stone, Ms. Hayes or others concerning media requests for consultant information prior to the Nov. 15 HPB meeting.

In response to Voice questions about apparent “gaps” in written documentation of certain related matters, more than one City staffer confirmed that business inside the City is often transacted person-to-person/verbally with no written record of some discussions and related decision-making processes.

Legal Expert Believes Public Records Disclosure Law May Have Been Broken.

Soon after the HPB meeting in November, the Voice consulted with experts in Chapter 119 Public Records Disclosure law in an attempt to learn whether City actions may have run afoul of Florida statutes requiring disclosure of public records. According to Barbara Petersen, President of Florida’s First Amendment Foundation, the apparent facts of the case seem to support what “appears to be a violation of Florida Public Records Disclosure law.”

Ms. Petersen also confirmed that once a consultant’s draft or related documents are submitted to the City – and/or shared for staff review – the documents become public record and must be released to the press and public “promptly and in good faith” when requested.

Ms. Petersen indicated that ignorance of the law is no defense for City officials and staffers and – if the City is shown to have willfully withheld documents – it could be subject to prosecution by the State Attorney and charged with a 1st Degree Misdemeanor as follows:

119.10 Violation of chapter; penalties.—

(1) Any public officer who:

(a) Violates any provision of this chapter commits a noncriminal infraction, punishable by fine not exceeding $500.

(b) Knowingly violates the provisions of s. 119.07(1) is subject to suspension and removal or impeachment and, in addition, commits a misdemeanor of the first degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083.

(2) Any person who willfully and knowingly violates:

(a) Any of the provisions of this chapter commits a misdemeanor of the first degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083.

(b) Section 119.105 commits a felony of the third degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082, s. 775.083, or s. 775.084.

History.—s. 10, ch. 67-125; s. 74, ch. 71-136; s. 5, ch. 85-301; s. 2, ch. 2001-271; s. 11, ch. 2004-335.

Kassab Column Suggests City Motive for Withholding Documents.

In her column published in the Sentinel on November 22, Ms. Kassab accused the City of improperly withholding the documents she had requested in the days leading up to a Historic Preservation Board hearing.

Ms. Kassab’s column, entitled “Winter Park withheld public report on historic preservation,” began with a simple declarative sentence: “Don’t Trust Winter Park City Hall.”

Ms. Kassab’s column included this passage:

“The city’s denial wasn’t a simple oversight. The emails included a message from Hayes that suggests a decision was made to keep the report out of sight until the meeting.

She noted my request in an email to Bland, and wrote to him, ‘….I have let our Communications Director, Clarissa Howard, know that an advance copy is not available. All respect to the paper, the HPB (Historic Preservation Board) should be the first to hear your comments.’

That’s not the way Florida’s public-records law works. It says nothing about giving appointed or elected officials first dibs on information. Or picking and choosing which records you would like to make public and which ones you’d rather not.

Howard said my request was misunderstood. She said Hayes considered the draft by the consultant to be ‘talking points’ and not pertinent to my request for the report. Oh, please.”

City Manager Knight Responds: “There Was No Cover-Up Here.”

Kassab’s assertions appeared to anger City Manager and other high-level City staffers. In the City’s November 25 Commission meeting, three days after the column was published, Mr. Knight refuted Ms. Kassab’s claims, indignantly stating that “At the time she asked for the report, it did not exist . . .We had no draft report . . . We had draft talking points.”

The Voice requested documents that could verify the City’s claim that consultant Bland had provided only “talking points” instead of a draft of his report and/or his Power Point slide presentation. In response, the city provided an email containing the words “speaking points” in the body of an email entitled “Draft 1.”

However, that email also included an attachment entitled “WPK Slides Rough Draft for LH Only.doc

Citizens Voice Dissatisfaction With City’s Historic Preservation Actions and Policies.

During the Commission meeting’s Public Comment segment, Joan Cason reminded the Commission that “Florida law states the public is entitled to review draft reports and not just final products . . . ” Cason criticized the City for refusing to give Kassab documents “to which she was legally entitled . . .” Cason laid the blame squarely on the City, saying “. . . this is clearly unacceptable behavior on the part of the City . . .”

In response to Ms. Cason and to questions from the dais, City Manager Randy Knight mounted a spirited defense of his staffers’ actions, strongly stating “There was no cover-up here . . . [ Kassab’s ] trying to make it look like we’re trying to cover something up . . . that simply wasn’t the case.”

Mr. Knight then added a caveat to his comments, admitting that Kassab had expanded her request in a subsequent email: “In one of her follow-up emails she added the line something like ‘or anything else.’ At that point, we should have given her the talking points – but nobody directed Lindsey Hayes to not provide anything.” (Click “Kassab Document Request” button above.)

Public Commenter Sally Flynn to Commission: “I am ashamed and I hope you are ashamed.”

Sally Flynn followed Ms. Cason, saying from the podium that the City’s Historic Preservation consultant has been kept from delivering his report directly to the Commission, asking, “Why did we pay to have a consultant – an excellent one?”

Ms. Flynn issued a call to Winter Parkers: “I want all the citizens to hear: Mr. Bland said our historic treasures are in peril and that we, Winter Park, have the worst preservation ordinance he has seen of any city in Florida. I am ashamed and I hope you are ashamed.”

Ms. Flynn’s comments laid bare the dissatisfaction that has simmered within the preservation community for a long time – and which has led to criticism of the Historic Preservation Board and the City’s existing Historic Preservation ordinance that – per the City’s own consultant – is considered to be weak and ineffective.

The ongoing dissatisfaction within the preservation community has motivated a citizens’ group to create their own report and recommendations for improving historic preservation in Winter Park. Their interaction with Winter Park’s Historic Preservation Board will be explored in Part Two of this story.

Commissioner Cooper Issues Challenge: Allow Consultant to Speak to Commission.

Ms. Cooper responded to comments from Ms. Cason and Ms. Flynn saying “I actually am embarrassed for the Commission and for the City . . . I believe we should give Mr. Bland an opportunity to present his report to the Commission.” ” Cooper said she anticipated that the consultant’s report “. . . would receive a public vetting at least equal to the vetting that was given to the Economic Development Board with Silvia Vargas. I didn’t know we had made that decision as a Commission not to hear it . . .”

Mayor Bradley and Commissioner Sprinkel jumped into conversation seeming to offer hope that the consultant’s report might be heard by the Commission. However, the Mayor quickly modified his response saying, “Whether we hear it or not, there’s dozens of consultants that this City uses in numerous ways – and I don’t believe every report comes to the Commission . . .” to which Cooper responded: “No, just the ones that are important like the Economic Development and historic preservation.”

Commissioner Sarah Sprinkel followed up Mayor Bradley’s comments, moving beyond whether the consultant would appear before the Commission:

“Let me tell why this is frustrating to me: I didn’t like that article in the paper [ Kassab’s column ] because I thought it was very unfair to the City . . . We have citizens that are accusing us of things that we haven’t – not only have not done . . . but this hasn’t gotten here [ to Commission ] yet . . . I don’t know about you, but I’m not doing any of that stuff . . . I really don’t like the fact that somebody’s trying to create an issue . . . Don’t start thinking that somebody has some ulterior motive – because I know I don’t have one and I know my friends up here don’t have them either. So, please give us an opportunity to let the process work.”

Commissioner Leary Defends Commission/City Actions. Frustrated by Citizen “Lectures.”

Commissioner Leary ended the Commission meeting with the last word on the City’s handling of the HPB consultant’s report. He appeared to reject Commissioner Cooper’s request for an appearance by the consultant, suggesting instead that the HPB is the appropriate venue for input from the consultant and citizen groups who are seeking to upgrade the City’s existing Historic Preservation ordinance.

“Occasionally we are accused of things up here that are just simply not true. We are taking our time with things. We have asked for studies. We inherited the current Historic Preservation ordinance. We are the first ones looking at it to address some of the holes in it . . . I think this Commission’s been pretty activist in trying to make sure that some of the things that we have been handed, we maintain and update for current needs of our community. So it is a bit frustrating to sit up here and be pointed out and lectured and told that people are embarrassed by how we’re handling things when we’re actually acting to address opportunity areas.”

Coming next: Historic Preservation Policy / Part Two

The Voice takes a closer look at the City’s handling of proposed changes to Winter Park’s historic preservation ordinance – and the interaction among the City Commission, the Historic Preservation Board and an advisory panel of citizen preservationists. For purposes of comparison, we also examine the City’s handling of the Fine Dining ordinance change process – which, unlike the historic preservation process, was primarily driven by a citizen task force.

 

New Lawyer In Capen Case Sues Pokorny LLC, Too

Humpty Dumpty Lawsuit Asks Homeowners to Put Capen Back Together Again

New Lawyer In Capen Case Sues Pokorny LLC, Too

Story Update:
Not long after the original lawsuit was filed by attorney Howard Marks on October 3, something happened – or, more accurately – didn’t happen: The City was never served with the lawsuit.As noted in the Circuit Court Register of Actions, Marks left the case the day after the original lawsuit was filed. A new attorney, Richard Wilson, was substituted in the case and an amended complaint was filed by Mr. Wilson earlier this week on October 22.“I have no comment,” attorney Marks said on Friday when we asked him about his withdrawal from the case.Marks and others we spoke with kept mum on exactly what happened to stall the suit – and would not comment on what caused the attorney’s sudden, next-day withdrawal from the case. Amended Lawsuit Register of Court Actions

New Attorney Adds Teeth to Amended Lawsuit.

The amended lawsuit appears to have been built on the foundation of the original case, but adds and deletes a number of elements – most prominent among them being the addition of 520 N. Interlachen, L.L.C. as a defendant in the case. The LLC is widely assumed to be a vehicle constructed by Pokorny family attorneys on their behalf. The “business entity” email address listed on the LLC corporate filing documentation includes the name John Pokorny.

The principals of Concerned Citizens for Historic Preservation, Inc. – the plaintiff in the case – are Cynthia Fried, Neil Sullivan and Rachel Chase.

Interlachen LLC Filing     Concerned Citizens Corp Filing

Old vs. New Lawsuit: What’s Different?

A digital comparison of the documents reveals a number of changes – most of them minor. However, by naming the Capen homeowner LLC as a defendant along with the City, Plaintiff attorney Richard Wilson serves notice that he places responsibility for preserving Capen House squarely in the lap of the homeowner.

Attorney Wilson: If Ordinance Doesn’t Provide for Removal of Historic Designation, City Can’t Do it.

In an interview with Winter Park Voice on Friday, Plaintiff attorney, Richard Wilson commented on the core issue of the case: “It is my opinion that the City has an extensive process for designating a home as historic and that there is no provision or ordinance providing for a rescission of a historic designation. If there is no process to rescind, a historic designation cannot be rescinded.”

If Capen House is Moved, Pokornys May Have to Move it Back.

On the question of what happens if the home is cut in half and moved prior to a judgment in the plaintiff’s favor, attorney Wilson indicated that, upon winning the lawsuit, his clients will ask that the process be reversed – that is to “Move the house back to the lot at 520 Interlachen Ave. and put it back together again.”

This remedy – to reverse any changes or movement of the home – is the heart of the Mandatory Permanent Injunction requested in the lawsuit: “Concerned Citizens for Historic Preservation, Inc., requests that this Court issue a mandatory injunction, compelling Defendant 520 N. Interlachen, L.L.C. to return the property to its condition before the historic landmark designation was wrongfully rescinded.”

This is the the full text of the injunction request:

COUNT II – MANDATORY PERMANENT INJUNCTION

83. Concerned Citizens re-alleges and reincorporates its allegations contained in paragraphs 1 through 74 above as if fully set forth herein.

84. A clear legal right of Concerned Citizens and the citizens of Winter Park at large has been violated, by the unlawful rescission of the historic landmark designation.

85. The unlawful rescission of the designation has caused, and will continue to cause, irreparable harm to Concerned Citizens and the citizens of Winter Park at large.

86. Concerned Citizens has no adequate remedy at law. 87. Work has already begun to remove the house from the property at 520 N. Interlachen, and to demolish other buildings and improvements to the property that are an integral part of the historic nature of the site.

WHEREFORE, Concerned Citizens for Historic Preservation, Inc., requests that this Court issue a mandatory injunction, compelling Defendant 520 N. Interlachen, L.L.C. to return the property to its condition before the historic landmark designation was wrongfully rescinded. ”

In our interview with Mr. Wilson, we asked who will bear the cost of putting Capen House back together again if his clients prevail in court. Mr. Wilson replied that the homeowner – the Pokornys (or their 520 N. Interlachen LLC) – would be responsible for paying the cost to return the home to its original condition on the Interlachen lot.

Attorney: If Homeowner Decides to Demolish Capen House, We Will Seek an Emergency Injunction to Prevent It.

Wilson explained that it is the homeowners who are authorizing the move of Capen House and that the Polasek Museum and others who are actually cutting the house in half and moving it across the lake are, per Agency Law, agents of the homeowner. According to Wilson, this means the Pokornys are liable for the actions of their agents.

When we asked how his clients will respond if the Pokorny family decides to demolish the home instead of allowing it to be moved, Wilson responded that he will “seek an emergency injunction preventing the destruction of Capen House.”

Clarissa Howard, City of Winter Park Director of Communications, was unwilling to comment on the case beyond supplying a statement from City Manager Randy Knight: “”It is unfortunate that we are faced with litigation regarding the Capen House. It is especially disheartening since there has been such active community involvement, including raising substantial funds to preserve the house. We will review the suit and follow the legal process as necessary.”

The Voice was unable to obtain a comment from an executive at SunTrust Bank or the Pokorny family as of presstime.

 


10/5/2013

Less than two weeks after the Polasek Museum’s board of trustees announced that they’d found the money to move Capen House across Lake Osceola to its new home, a group calling itself Concerned Citizens for Historic Preservation, Inc. filed suit against the City of Winter Park.

The suit, brought by attorney Howard Marks, alleges that the City removed Capen House from the Winter Park Register of Historic Places in a manner that was “inconsistent with the Defendant City’s Historic Preservation Ordinance.”

Plaintiff Claims City Acted “Arbitrarily and Capriciously” in Rescinding Capen Historic Status.

Count 1 of the complaint states that “Plaintiff believes the Defendant City lacked authority to rescind the designation, or in the alternative, acted arbitrarily and capriciously in doing so.”

The Plaintiffs appear to claim that the City did not establish sufficient basis for the rescission. The complaint implies that the City withdrew its protection of the historic structure without first proving a need for rescission due to “significant deterioration, or extreme difficulty or expense to renovate” the home. The lawsuit also states that the City did not obtain a “recommendation by the Preservation Commission” to rescind Capen House’s Historic Designation. The clear implication is that the City ignored its own ordinance in an effort to comply with the request by SunTrust bank that they remove the designation. City Attorney, Larry Brown, disputed a similar claim made by Mr. Marks in a July 12 letter to the City. Click here for story.

Attorney Marks also alleges that the mortgagee bank “wrongfully accused” the homeowner of “bad faith” during the foreclosure process and “misrepresented the facts and law” in its demand that the City rescind the home’s Historic Designation. Click the button below to view the complaint filed with the Circuit Court.

CCHP Lawsuit

Concerned Citizens Group Alleges Sunshine Law Violation by City Commissioners.

The lawsuit includes an allegation that “At least two Commissioners, in particular, both acted on confidential information not publically disclosed and improperly considered when each voted for rescission. Further, it is believed that the information was wrongfully shared and discussed with other Commissioners outside any public setting.”

Complaint Singles Out Commissioner for Non-Disclosure & Failure to Disqualify “Herself.”

The complaint does not name any of the Commissioners it accuses of wrong-doing, but does make a very specific claim that one of the City’s two female Commissioners “wrongfully received confidential information from the mediator of the foreclosure dispute between the Bank and Clardy Malugen that was relied upon for that Defendant City Commissioner’s vote. The information was not disclosed at a public hearing and the Commissioner did not disqualify herself.”

What Happens Next?

Concerned Citizens for Historic Preservation, Inc. is asking the court to overturn the Commission’s rescission of Capen House’s Historic Designation, which, if the court complies, could complicate or reverse any plans to move Capen House from its current location.

 

Historic Preservation: Are We Getting Serious?

Hearings Begin. Lawsuit Threatened. New Home for Capen House – Maybe

Historic Preservation: Are We Getting Serious?

On Friday, the Sentinel broke the news that the Capen House will be cut into two pieces and floated across Lake Osceola to the grounds of the Polasek Museum – if Winter Parkers are willing to pony up $650,000. It’ll have to be a fast pony, too.In an interview with the Voice, Debbie Komanski, Executive Director of the Polasek Museum, confirmed that all the money will have to be raised and the house moved within the next seven to eight months. Komanski stressed that for Winter Parkers, “Now is the time to commit, to step forward” with funds to move Capen House.

The Voice will feature more of Ms. Komanski’s interview and more in-depth Capen House coverage in an upcoming story.

Historic Preservation Board Tackles City Ordinance

On Wednesday of last week, the city’s Historic Preservation Board held the first of several hearings to review Winter Park’s preservation policies. Mayor Bradley has asked the board to lead the review and consult with the P&Z Board and the Economic Development Advisory Board (EDAB). Mayor Bradley, with the strong support of Commissioner Leary, chose this approach instead of appointing a Task Force – the approach recommended by Commissioner McMacken and members of the preservation community.

A second Historic Preservation Board (HPB) meeting will be held today at 6:00pm in City Commission chambers.

Board Must “Move Along Briskly” to Meet October 15 Deadline.

Board members expressed concern that reviewing city preservation policies, coordinating input from other city boards and giving Winter Park residents adequate opportunity to participate in city hearings over two to three months could present a stiff challenge.

HPB member, Candace Chemtob noted “I think we’re really going to have our work cut out to go back through the ordinance and really re-write those codes so that they’re extremely clear. That doesn’t give us much time . . .” Ms. Chemtob reminded the board that it took the board “a year or two” to review the original preservation ordinance. Ms. Chemtob’s remarks can be viewed at 16:55 on the WPV video of the HPB hearing (click video image above).

Board Chair, Randall Glidden and board member Christi Underwood, an attorney specializing in construction law, stressed that the board needs to communicate to citizens the voluntary nature of historical designation – a process that does not conflict with the property rights of homeowners. Ms. Underwood explained that “This board does not have the authority, nor does it seek the authority, to take away the private property rights of owners.” (22:10)

In response to Ms. Underwood’s point, City Preservation staffer, Lindsey Hayes took the opportunity to debunk what she called mythical “horror tales” she encounters from time to time. “There are certainly a lot of myths out there . . . the devaluing of [ historic ] property is another myth that there’s just no evidence about.” (23:00)

Ghost of Capen House Controversy Still Haunts Board/Commission Members.

Comments by HPB member Genean McKinnon, demonstrate that the intensity of community response to the handling of the Capen House Historic Designation has had a lasting impact inside City Hall.

Ms. McKinnon mentioned more than once that she was “shocked” by “unacceptable” comments from Winter Park residents and by details that came to light after the HPB voted to grant Historic status to Capen House in 2011. (15:15). McKinnon called for a review of the Capen House affair so that “the full facts can be known.”

Commissioner Leary Scolds Preservation Community.

Commissioner Steve Leary (and/or the city residents he talks to) also appeared to feel the sting of preservation-minded sentiment more than most. In his response to the conciliatory letter sent to the Commission by Betsy Owens and other city preservationists on June 20 – a letter that was well-received by Mayor Bradley and others on the Commission – Mr. Leary scolded the preservation community on behalf of some of his constituents.

In an email obtained from the city by the Voice last week (excerpted below), Mr. Leary highlighted the “many” comments he has received that “harshly criticized the Friends group and the Historical Society” for “instigating this divide” within the community:

“In light of our present community dialogue and your letter, not only is the most recent vitriol not helpful, it is actually hurtful to the causes you lead. Over the course of the past few weeks I have received many e-mails critical of the City Commission, most a cut-and-paste version of an e-mail begun by the previous owner of the home. However, I have also received many more comments from others in our community disgusted by what they see as an infringement on property rights and an attempt to once again divide our community for political purposes. Unfortunately in spite of what I believe are all of our good intentions there are some with the perceptions that the Friends group and Historical Society are driving some of this negative divide. Several individuals have personally conveyed that they will not be applying for a historic designation on their home. As well, some have harshly criticized the Friends group and the Historical Society for what they believe to be their (your) role in instigating this divide, for they detest the negative media coverage of our quite, quant, private City.

“We will figure this out. Some will be unhappy with our collective work. Some will say we overreached. Some will complain we didn’t go far enough. We are not locked in time. I am sure some of the farmers that were here when Chapman and Chase arrived were none too pleased with their grand development.

“Thank you again for taking the time to write and for your willingness to be a part of the solution. I also respect the hours and efforts you expend against your missions. I offer that it could be more effective to share your thoughts on the ugliness with those launching the bombs, not those receiving them. I appreciate your sentiments but only wish more of the community were able to hear them.”

Click button below to view the full text of Mr. Leary’s email.

Leary Email to Owens

Who are Mr. Leary’s “Bomb Launchers”?

The strongest proponents of re-establishing the Historic Designation of Capen House – and NOT moving it from its original setting – are among those who have most sharply criticized the actions of the City Commission. It is this criticism, expressed in letters and in city hearings that has outraged some Commissioners and HPB members. Some in this group are undoubtedly among Mr. Leary’s “bomb launchers.” These citizens have not, however, limited their criticism to City Hall insiders – they also disagree with others in the preservation community who have worked with the Pokorny family to facilitate moving Capen House to another location. The feelings of this group are freely expressed on a popular Facebook page: SaveWinterPark.

Winter Park Group Hires Attorney, Threatens Lawsuit to Force Reversal of Commission’s Capen House Decision.

On Sunday, SaveWinterPark posted a July 12 letter from attorney Howard Marks, representing unnamed Winter Parkers, demanding that the City Commission “set aside” their rescission of the Historic Designation of Capen House. In his letter Mr. Marks informs City Attorney, Larry Brown that

“numerous citizens of Winter Park have contacted my office and retained me to look into the issue of the repeal of Resolution 2091-11 which was the historic designation on the above-referenced property . . . We have reviewed the City Code and historic preservation provisions and there is no mechanism for the Winter Park City Commission to remove a property from the City’s historic designation without the historic preservation board’s consent. Accordingly, the rescission of the historic designation of the Capen House on September 24, 2012 is void as the Winter Park City Commission had no authority under its own code to rescind a historic designation in that manner. If the rescission vote is not set aside by the City Commission, my clients have authorized me to proceed with a declaratory and injunctive relief action in the Circuit Court in and for Orange County, Florida.”

This is an excerpt of the Marks letter. To view the full text of the letter, click the button below.

Lawsuit Threat

Minutes after receiving Marks’ letter, City Attorney Brown responded as follows:

“You are correct that the Code has no procedure for removing the designation, which is precisely the reason why the Commission could rescind the prior Resolution by Resolution. This authority is inherent in the definition of a “resolution” under law, and the statutory and constitutional Home Rule authority of this Chartered municipal commission . . . At this time, the home is owned by folks who purchased from the bank, and I don’t see what more the City could do without creating significant risk of liability for damages.”

This is an excerpt of the City Attorney’s reply. To view the full text of the email, click the button below.

City Attorney Reply to Threat

Winter Park Voice will update this story and provide continuing coverage of the city’s hearings on Historic Preservation ordinance revisions.