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.

 

Commissioners & Preservationists Make Nice

Task Force and/or City Boards to Study Preservation Solutions

Commissioners & Preservationists Make Nice

At last Monday’s City Commission meeting it was clear that the key players in the Winter Park’s historic preservation drama had decided to moderate the tone of the debate.

Mayor Bradley singled out Casa Feliz as a “wonderful example of private preservation” and complimented Casa Feliz and the WP Historical Association for “releasing a beautiful letter to the Commission last Thursday . . . [ confirming ] that we all share like goals. This doesn’t need to be a vilified process in our city. This is something that we all need to be working together on . . .” The email “letter” can be viewed by clicking the button below.

Letter to City

The Mayor suggested that the Commission meet as necessary to examine Winter Park’s Historic Preservation policies – and “to look from 2001 to the present and [ determine ] what has and hasn’t worked.” Bradley called for an inventory of all historic places in Winter Park and a study of why some city residents do not place their properties on a historic registry. He also called for involvement by the city’s Historic Preservation Board, Economic Development Advisory Board and Planning & Zoning Board to look at preservation standards, the economic value of preservation and the city’s building demolition policy.

McMacken & Blydenburgh: Let’s Create Task Force to Look at Preservation Policy Changes.

Commissioner McMacken followed Mr. Bradley’s opening statement with an acknowledgement of another email received just prior to the Commission meeting. That email, sent by former Historic Preservation Board member, Jeffrey Blydenburgh, proposed a “Task Force [ that ] will listen to the broad community regarding heritage and preservation and make recommendations to achieve the desired outcome (ordinance, code, planning guidelines, etc) to present to the commission.”

The emailed proposal was signed by Betsy Owens, the Chamber’s Patrick Chapin and others. Blydenburgh also addressed the Commission during the Public Comment period. His testimony can be viewed by clicking the video image above. Blydenburgh’s email can be viewed by clicking the button below.

Task Force Email

Commissioner McMacken supported the idea of creating a Task Force stating that “This really needs to be a community conversation that perhaps this Task Force . . . would come back to us and say ‘Here’s what we value in our city’.” McMacken expressed some misgivings about the Mayor’s idea to examine and shape policy depending largely on the city’s advisory boards, saying “I’m a little hesitant of putting it out to four or five different boards.” McMacken suggested that the Task Force may be better suited to make recommendations “in a more coherent form.”

Mayor Bradley countered that a Task Force may inadvertently recommend actions that could create “legal liabilities” for the city, implying that city boards – with responsibility for, and understanding of, code enforcement – are less likely to create ordinances that create liabilities for the city.

Bradley & Leary: Historic Preservation and Economic Development Boards Well-Suited to Study Ordinances.

Commissioner Leary supported the Mayor’s position saying that appointment of a Task Force would be “a slap in the face” of the Historic Preservation Board. Leary also agreed with the Mayor that the Economic Development Advisory Board and city staff were well-suited to the task. Mayor Bradley added that the city’s ordinances may not need to be changed, speculating that they may be “up to muster and up to speed – and what we have is an implementation issue.” Commission Commissioner Cooper agreed with the Mayor on implementation being an issue, saying “I think that’s exactly what we have . . .”

Ms. Cooper also indicated her support of Mr. McMacken’s Task Force suggestion and recounted her experience on the Planning & Zoning Board working with a Task Force that brought needed expertise to the board rather than seeking to replace the board’s function. “They were helping us and advising us . . . Our boards are wonderful, but they’re not all experts in the field – and we can get people who are [ experts ] . . .”

Sprinkel: Preservation Policy Should “be owned by this entire community – one little board can’t own this.”

Commissioner Sprinkel reminded the Commission of the documentation and recommendations generated by past studies and quipped that “They made recommendations that perhaps we wouldn’t be here today if we’d followed those recommendations.” Sprinkel suggested that the Commission should start the process with a city board and utilize a “Task Force concept” by inviting community input. Sprinkel added that “This is something that needs to be owned by this entire community – one little board can’t own this.”

Later in the hearing, Commissioner Cooper brought the discussion back to the issue that has generated so much community passion and scrutiny of the city’s policies and actions – the threatened demolition of Capen House. Cooper pointed out a city code provision that, had it been implemented, might have resulted in a closer look at what would be lost and what would be gained by granting SunTrust Bank’s request to rescind the Historic Registry status of Capen House: “One of the functions that our code allows is that the Historic Preservation Board is to recommend for or against demolitions on properties that are on the Florida Master Site File Plan. Well the Capen House was there – but somehow . . . it fell off the radar.”

The code provision Cooper referred to appears to be Sec. 58-446, “Functions, powers and duties of the historic preservation board.” The first power that is enumerated in this section of Winter Park’s Code of Ordinances is as follows:

“The historic preservation board shall be responsible for the development and administration of a comprehensive historic preservation program, and shall identify and maintain the city’s historic resources for the benefit of both present and future residents. It shall be the responsibility of the HPB to:

(1) Provide or recommend incentives for historic preservation, and to recommend for or against rezonings, demolitions, developments, lot splits, lot consolidations, or conditional uses that could impact historic resources identified in the Florida Master Site File survey of the City of Winter Park.”

Bradley: “Capen House is obviously a rallying cry and a call. It’s being dealt with – I hope . . . “

Mayor Bradley closed the hearing by noting efforts by city residents to deal with the preservation of Capen House by using private, rather than public, resources: “Capen House is obviously a rallying cry and a call. It’s being dealt with – I hope . . . and if the city needs to be involved, we’ll figure out a way to be involved if we have to, but there’s a private solution. Those frankly are normally the best solutions . . .”

In the “Public Comments” section of the meeting that followed the hearing, Casa Feliz Director, Betsy Owens spoke about the effect the Capen House controversy has had on the city:

“With all due respect, I feel that the events in recent weeks have caused our community to lose faith in our government’s ability to protect our historic resources in Winter Park . . . I believe that by establishing a bottom-up approach, reaching wide to bring in members from the community at large – from the Chamber of Commerce, from Casa Feliz, from the realtors, from a bunch of different designated groups – it will go a long way to instill the confidence of our citizenry in the government’s ability to protect our culture and heritage in Winter Park, and also promote the healing that is so sorely needed.”

Ms. Owens’ testimony can be viewed by clicking the video image at the top of the page. Earlier this week, in her Preservation Winter Park blog, Owens explained the efforts by private parties – spearheaded by Owens and her group – to work with the Pokorny family, “We want to assure the public that the Friends organization is working diligently, in cooperation with the attorneys for the property owners, to explore viable options for the Capen House. We are grateful that the owners have entrusted the Friends with developing a plan for their consideration.”


6/14/13 Story Update


If Winter Park’s Commissioners were a bit wary on Monday as they watched Capen House supporters file into the chamber, their business-as-usual demeanor did not betray them.

The Commission meeting started out as usual, with the audience patiently waiting through plaques & proclamations. This time, city business included a plea from Commissioner Cooper to halt new restaurant permits until the city’s fast food policy can be worked out. Shortly after Cooper’s request fizzled with her fellow Commissioners, Mayor Bradley announced that the Commission was ready to consider the question the audience was waiting for: Deciding the city’s position on the impending demolition of Capen House.

Once the Capen House discussion got under way, occasional rumblings from the audience notched up the tension on the dais sending a strong message that the Commissioners were in for a bumpy night.

A couple of hours into the meeting, the Commissioners sent their own message to Capen House preservationists: We did nothing wrong in rescinding the home’s Historic Designation and will leave it to the Pokorny family – the current owners of Capen House – to decide its fate.

Pokorny Attorney: Give Us Demo Permit – We’ll Give Capen House 30 days to Find New Home.

The Commission reached this decision after Pokorny lawyer, Trippe Cheek, offered preservationists a month to submit an acceptable plan to move Capen House while still insisting on the right of his clients to tear down the historic home 30 days after the demolition permit is issued – if they decide not to accept any proposed plan.

As noted by the city Building Director George Wiggins, the permit won’t be issued for another couple of weeks – the time he estimated it will take the Pokornys to properly terminate all utilities at the property. Wiggins explained that the Pokornys had not yet requested the utility disconnects, commenting that “The ball’s in their court.”

Attorney Cheek went on to propose that “I don’t think you ought to take any action, to tell you the truth. I’m not sure what action you could take considering it [demolition permit hearing] wasn’t agenda’d anyway.”

Cheek’s assertion created a question of whether any Capen House action in Monday’s Commission meeting was legally appropriate and binding, suggesting that the item had not been placed on the agenda in a timely and proper manner.

After subtly questioning the legitimacy of any Commission action in Monday’s meeting, attorney Cheek repeated his 30 day offer which was applauded by Mayor Bradley who volunteered that “For me this is certainly good news.”

Bradley: 30 Day Offer is “Good News.” 

Commissioner Sprinkel immediately echoed Bradley’s sentiment, adding that the 30 day concession was “Very good news.”

Prior to the testimony of Pokorny’s attorney, debate among the Commissioners was earnest, occasionally spirited and sometimes defensive. The Mayor and Commissioners focused significantly on questions of legal procedure, application timelines and property rights.

Tom McMackin recounted his memory of handling the initial 2006 Historical Designation of Capen House, which was endorsed in a unanimous vote of the Historical Preservation Board that he chaired at the time.

McMackin summed up the feeling of some in the preservation community that Capen House “may not be the greatest of historical structures, but it’s one of ours and that may be as historic as we get in this community.”

Commissioner Leary argued most passionately for the interests of Pokornys and SunTrust Bank, claiming “I know the property owners [the Porkornys]. They are great people. They do more for charity. They did not buy this house with the intent to demolish it . . . having, again, residents of our city maligned for just doing what’s in their best interests and what they are entitled to do is a little disconcerting to me.”

Leary admitted his fear of litigation by the Pokornys stating that “I don’t need a $40 million lawsuit/judgment against the city.”

Speaking in support of SunTrust’s actions in the case, Commissioner Leary asserted that “The bank, they chose the best offer . . . the best offer may not have been the highest offer, the best offer also includes terms – they chose that and now we’re sitting here discussing legislating against a private property matter and it’s a little disturbing . . . we made the right decisions for the property owners that were presenting their case.”

City Attorney Offers Commission a Way to Delay Demolition. No Takers.

During a discussion of alternatives the city could pursue, City Attorney Larry Brown revealed that the Commission did, in fact, have a legally defensible way to delay the demolition of Capen House for 30 to 60 days. Brown commented that, if challenged in court, a delay by the city in defense of community interests probably would be ruled appropriate – with a likely worst case awarding minimal damages to the Pokornys. However, Brown warned that a longer delay would put the city in jeopardy.

As the Commission eased itself into the position that doing nothing, for now, might be their best approach, talk on the dais turned to what might be done when and if a private deal was put together to move the house. Commissioner Cooper asked whether the city was willing to consider using city land as a final resting place for Capen House. Mayor Bradley mentioned the possibility that the historic home could sit next to the city’s clubhouse at the golf course.

Sprinkel: Citizen Email/News Coverage Hurtful. Bradley: I’m “Grossly Disappointed” in Some Citizens.

Sarah Sprinkel, clearly relieved that the city would not be fighting this particular battle, commented “I think this went very well.” She then revealed the strain of dealing with the onslaught of email and negative community sentiment this issue has generated: “It has been very hard to read – not just the paper – but all the emails that have been very blaming. It’s been a very hurtful thing for us and for everybody . . . I hope that everybody out there can move forward with this and stop the blaming.”

Mayor Bradley added to Commissioner Sprinkel’s comments later in the meeting with a final comment of his own on the Capen House affair. The Mayor complimented the actions of his fellow Commissioners, then characterized “many” of the Capen House advocates who had sent email to the Commission as writing email that was “accusatory” and “nasty.” Bradley also laid blame on “a lot of organizations” as having “contributed” to the expression of opinions that had “grossly disappointed” him.  Video of the Mayor’s comments can be viewed by clicking the “Capen Hearing – Part 3” video at the end of this story.

Cooper: Finds Pokorny Offer to be “Encouraging.” Calls on City to Help Re-Locate Capen House.

Sprinkel’s expression of relief and hope for reconciliation were followed by Commissioner Cooper’s call for a re-examination of the city’s Historic Preservation ordinance and a request that the city study ordinances in cities renowned for their preservation efforts – cities like Coral Gables and St. Augustine. Mayor Bradley agreed that the Commission should set aside time at the next Commission meeting to discuss preservation rules and procedures.

A palpable sense of relief seemed to wash over the dais as Commissioners looked to future actions that might defuse community angst and lead to more effective preservation efforts. Commissioner Cooper looked out over the audience as she applauded the concessions made by the Pokorny family, saying “I’m glad that the owners are really trying to help . . . that’s very encouraging . . .” Cooper then alluded to possible help the city could offer in finding a piece of land for Capen House and spoke of her hope that “it might be a great way to bring the community together to try and do something, and certainly it helps us learn lessons about what we have to do to fix this ordinance.”

Public Comment: Audience Not So Encouraged by Commission’s Capen House/Preservation Performance.

Unfortunately for the Commission, public comment during the meeting showed that many in the audience did not think that the Capen House matter was handled well – and were not ready to move on before letting the Commission know it. The Commissioners sat for most of the next hour as advocates for Capen House preservation spoke about the failure of the Mayor and Commissioners to protect Winter Park’s heritage and historic landmarks. Blame was laid and the Mayor and Commissioners were – not so gently – put back on the hook.

The Public Comment portion of the Capen House hearing can be viewed in Part Two of the Capen House Hearing Video, starting at the nineteen minute point in the video (19:00). Each of the commenters featured below can be viewed starting at the point indicated at the end of each paragraph.

Comments by audience members – most of whom appeared to agree that the city must strengthen its commitment to historic preservation – included reminders of past demolitions, including demolition of the historic Annie Russell home (19:00). Winter Park resident Peggy Evans read a letter from Amy Jennings Evans, who grew up in Capen House, recalling Capen House social events attended by local luminaries including the founders of the Winderweedle Law Firm – the firm that employs the attorneys representing the Pokorny family. (21:10)

Betsy Owens, Executive Director of Casa Feliz, reminded the Commission that in the last two decades, “One out of every eight houses in Winter Park have been demolished – more than twice the national average.” Owens also pointed out – in answer to Commission fears about historic protections running afoul of state laws protecting property rights – that cities like St. Augustine and Jacksonville with stronger protective ordinances “are subject to the same state laws governing property rights that Winter Park is.” (30:30)


Kern: “Why are the Historic Preservation laws second class zoning laws?”

John Kern mentioned a Sentinel article quoting Mayor Bradley’s concern about the conflict between Historic Preservation laws and private property rights. Kern asked why preservation laws aren’t seen as just another type of zoning ordinance, commenting that “All of our zoning laws affect property rights . . . Why are the Historic Preservation laws second class zoning laws?” Kern reminded the Commissioners that “Zoning laws define the type of community we want to live in” adding that many Winter Parkers chose to live in the city “because of the history that this town has.”

Kern’s comments were interrupted with applause when he criticized SunTrust Bank’s role in rescinding the historic protection of Capen House – claiming that the bank had “used up a lot of goodwill in this community because of their actions.” (33:40)

Rogers:  “I think we ought to tear this house down . . . we as a town, need a lesson.”

The most ferocious commentary of the evening – second only to former Capen House owner Clardy Malugen’s incendiary remarks (44:20) – was John Rogers’ sharply pointed jab at city governance of Winter Park’s cultural and historic treasures. Rogers, the grandson of Casa Feliz architect James Gamble Rogers, facetiously suggested to the commission that “I think we ought to tear this house down soon – and be done with it.” Rogers was clearly in an Old Testament frame of mind when he declared that “. . . we need a trumpet call to arms . . . a sacrificial lamb. I think we as a town, need a lesson.” Rogers’ fervor drew applause from the audience when he castigated city approval of fast food on the avenue and the boom in “McMansion” development as emblematic of values that “crappify this city’s brand.”

Rogers ended his presentation with a question and a suggestion to the Commission: “My Question is: Is the function of a government to work for the good of the majority of the citizens, or for the financial benefit of a small influential minority?” Rogers called for “Mandatory Historic Preservation ordinances complete with not only sticks, but significant carrots . . . We need creative, out-of-the-box thinking – and we need it now.” (35:55)

 


6/10/13 Story Update

Winter Park’s City Commission meets today at 3:30pm and, with the fate of Capen House still undecided amidst citizen indignation and rumored negotiations, the hearing promises to be lively – and possibly even productive.

Last night, Commissioner Carolyn Cooper got out in front of the pack by issuing the Commission’s first public mea culpa in her emailed Cooper’s Perspective, “I believe the City Commission (myself included) made a mistake regarding our decision to remove the Capen House from Winter Park’s Register of Historic Places.”

In her newsletter, Cooper vowed to make amends: “At [Monday’s] Commission meeting I will seek the support of my fellow commissioners to empower the City Manager to explore all reasonable options to work with the property owners to delay the demolition and hopefully save this significant historic asset. Without the City’s intervention to delay the demolition, there may be little opportunity to formulate a plan to save this important piece of Winter Park’s history.”

Cooper & Bradley Declare Support for Delaying Demolition

Cooper was not alone in her quest to find some sort of alternative to the impending demolition of Capen House.

On the same day that P&Z Director Jeff Briggs warned that “I met with the builder this morning and they are definitely moving ahead with demolition,” Mayor Bradley issued an urgent call to action in a May 30 email to city staffers, “While I would not advocate any specific course of action, as all the facts are not known or evident . . . I would suggest an administrative hold on the demolition permit for 30 days until all the facts could be sorted out. This is a decision I cannot take unilaterally and I also want to protect property rights. But something needs to happen soon.”

May: Bradley Considers City Purchase of Capen House. June: City Should Not Purchase

In one of a series of city emails obtained by the Voice, Mayor Bradley appears to have been searching for alternatives even before Jeff Briggs affirmed the Pokorny’s determination to demolish their recently purchased 128-year-old home. On May 29, Bradley floated an idea to City Manager Randy Knight: “If this property is lakefront, I would be very interested from a city’s perspective in purchasing it for Park land.” However, Bradley’s staff quickly reminded him that neighbors are often opposed to parks placed in the middle of residential neighborhoods.

By early June, Mayor Bradley’s position on a city rescue of Capen House appeared to have evolved. In a Sentinel article published on June 8, Bradley told reporter David Breen that, “I think that individuals need to band together and come up with a plan . . . I don’t believe it’s the city’s place to do that. … While I personally might wish for a different outcome [than demolition], it’s really not my decision.”

While it appears that the city’s politicians may be deciding that now is the time to stake out their public positions on Capen House and the city’s historic preservation policies, private discussions inside the city have been ongoing for weeks. Winter Park’s elected officials and top staffers have worked hard to understand how a simple Commission vote to rescue a bank’s collateral from a “significant loss in value” could create such an explosion of public response and media scrutiny.

Public & Media Response Rattles Commissioners

On May 30, as the Capen House story began to break rapidly across multiple news outlets, Commissioner Sprinkel asked City Manager Randy Knight for help: “We are getting lots of heat from this and need the facts provided to us — provided to the public.” On the same day, Mayor Bradley complained to Randy Knight that “I’m getting lots of pings on this one–as if the Commission itself is out there demolishing the building.” In the same email Bradley asked for the second time in two days: “Would the City intervene to buy the property?”

It was during this period of the city’s own examination of the facts of the case that Winter Park Voice requested and obtained a significant number of city documents. The Voice requested email documents generated during the period surrounding the 2011 granting of the Capen House Historic Designation and the 2012 period when the Designation was rescinded. Our request parameters were expected to also yield citizen email to the Mayor and Commissioners. After receiving requested documents from the city, we discovered that there were virtually no documents included from the 2011 period and no citizen email to the Mayor and Commissioners. The city explained that these gaps in their email search were likely the result of a technical problem with city servers.

City Staffer:  Not Much Evidence to Support SunTrust’s Claims in Capen Case

Our examination of the city email we received, combined with our review of the entire SunTrust file did not reveal any proof submitted to the city by SunTrust supporting their claims that (a) Historic Designation reduces property values, or (b) that the homeowner, Clardy Malugen, engaged in “bad faith” tactical negotiations linked to the Historic Designation. These claims were made in SunTrust’s 8/17/12 letter to the city that summarized their case.

SunTrust’s claims were discussed at length among senior city staffers and elected officials – as shown in the following email excerpt discussing possible city response to press questions about the case:

“The circumstances surrounding the Capen House (520 N. Interlachen Ave.) makes this situation unique and unprecedented. In August 2011, when the application was approved by the City Commission to place the house on the Winter Park Historic Register, the city was not made aware the home was already under a foreclosure process by SunTrust. SunTrust was also not aware of the application for historic designation.

In September 2012, the request by SunTrust to rescind the historic designation on the Capen House was brought forward and the City Commission agreed with SunTrust’s position that:

  • the owner was already in default on the mortgage when she asked the city to put the historic designation on the property
  • the designation might hinder their options to recoup what was owed to them
  • ‘the application was not made in good faith, that it was done for tactical negotiation reasons and the owner sought to use the designation as a basis for claiming a 50%+ discount to satisfy her debt to SunTrust’

The rescinding of the historic designation was unanimously approved by the Commission on September 24, 2012 based on the information presented above.”

Email conversation among staffers discussing this proposal includes this conclusion presented by a senior staffer close to the case:

“The first point was the only one evidence was presented to support . . . The only evidence presented was that Ms. Melugen was in default on the mortgage and that her counter claims against SunTrust’s lending practices had not been upheld. There wasn’t any evidence presented to support the 2nd and 3rd points . . .”

Proposed City Policy: Let’s Include Lenders When Deciding on Homeowner Requests

The same staff email that laid out SunTrust’s claims also suggests future policy option regarding Historical Designations:

“Moving forward, the City Commission could revise their policy to:

  • direct staff to research whether there are any pending foreclosure lawsuits in the public record when an owner petitions for historic designation
  • deny the request for such designation if under foreclosure proceedings

These actions would only apply to future requests and would help prevent this unusual situation from occurring again.”

 

In a separate email (excerpt) to Randy Knight, Commissioner Steve Leary weighs in on the question of lender involvement in the city’s Historical Designation process:

“I also think it may be appropriate to notice any mortgager on future designations as they have a financial interest in the properties valuation, even prior to foreclosure proceedings.”

SunTrust, in their 8/17/12 letter to the city, also expressed a similar opinion:

“Where the property owner’s equity in the real property is minimal, as was the case here, the mortgage lender is, in economic reality, the equitable owner of the property whose rights will be substantially affected by the contemplated historic designation actions of the applicant. If all adjacent property owners are worthy of receiving a notice of the contemplated historic designation actions of the applicant under the City Code, wouldn’t the applicant’s lender also be worthy of receiving such a notice from the City?”

Did Fear of Lawsuit Spur Commission?

A closer look at the interests of SunTrust reveals that the City of Winter Park is a customer of the bank. This fact was confirmed by the city in response to questions from the Voice about the city’s relationship and interaction with the bank. We attempted to confirm reports that one factor motivating the Commission vote in SunTrust’s favor was the city’s fear that they might be sued by their own bank.

We were unable to find any evidence that SunTrust threatened to sue the city if the Capen House Historic Designation was not rescinded. However, in response to our questions, city staff did reveal that despite the absence of any lawsuit threat by SunTrust, City Attorney Brown “did give advice to the Commission that SunTrust had a reasonable argument that might prevail in court.”

Historic Designation No Guarantee of Immunity From Demolition

An analysis by the city’s lead Historic Preservation staffer, Lindsey Hayes, indicates that even Historic Registry status does not automatically confer total immunity from demolition. In a recent email explaining how demolition is treated in the Historic Preservation context, Ms. Hayes points out that “The ordinance does not include a direct prohibition against demolition. It describes the process and the issues for the board to consider. A total prohibition in the ordinance might result in a takings claim so a defensible process is the important key . . . Each case would have to stand on its own merit . . .”

Comments by others at the city indicate that while the process may contemplate the possibility of allowing an owner to demolish a Historically Protected home, the owner would have to convince a city board that the home was essentially unsalvageable.

City Attorney Assures City: We Had “Legal Right” to Remove Historic Designation.

On May 31, City Attorney Larry Brown submitted to city staff this concise recap of the legal rationale for the city’s handling of the Historical Designation of the Capen House:

“The former owner had already lost the property at the time Sun Trust requested the resolution revoking historical designation. Sun Trust had a foreclosure judgment and took title at the foreclosure sale. The former owner had appealed the judgment BUT had not posted a bond to stay the sale nor had she taken the legal action needed to stop Sun Trust from acquiring title. Moreover, she has since lost that appeal. Therefore, we were dealing with the legal owner of the property, and that owner, (Sun Trust), requested the removal of the historic designation.Under the City’s Code, the designation is granted by Commission resolution. There are no prohibitions against a Commission resolution removing the designation at the request of the owner, and that is what occurred here. The owner, Sun Trust, requested and received a resolution removing the designation. The Commission could do that because there was no federal, state or local law prohibiting that action. (This property was not on a federal or state historic designation register).

George may delay demolition if allowed by Code to see if a group of citizens can implement a “Casa Feliz solution”. That is a policy decision for you and the Commission. But, I can assure you that the Commission was dealing with the legal owner, and that owner, (Sun Trust), requested the action, and the Commission had the legal right in its discretion to resolve that the property would have its historic designation removed.”

City Attorney: City Code May Allow Our Delay of Demolition Permit.

Despite Attorney Brown’s assurance that city Building Director George Wiggins may delay demolition of Capen House “if allowed by Code”, the city had not moved in that direction as of early last week. As reported on June 4 by City Communications Director, Clarissa Howard, the city had “Nothing new to report on the Capen House…demo has not been put on hold…no word on our end on other plans for the house…”

Rumors abound that some sort of deal or decisive city action is imminent. Today’s Commission meeting may give city residents a clue as to whether Capen House will live on.


5/28/13 Story

 

In mid-May, as word got out that a Demolition Notice had been posted at the Historic Capen House Residence, a small group of Winter Parkers took notice.

Within days, Betsy Owens, Director of the city’s beloved Casa Feliz Historic Home Museum, broke the Capen House story in her Preservation Winter Park blog and issued a call to the wider Winter Park community:

“There are precious few houses in the city of Winter Park as old as the Capen House, located at 520 North Interlachen Avenue. Built in 1885 for James S. Capen, one of the city’s early settlers, the house was initially constructed in a Folk Victorian style, and celebrated by the local community . . . Last week a demolition permit was granted by the City of Winter Park, allowing the 128-year-old home to be razed after June 13. Preservation-minded people are scratching their heads to connect the dots. How did we get from there to here?”

Preservation Winter Park Article

Ms. Owens has been “here” before. She’s seen what Winter Parkers can do when a historic Winter Park home is threatened with demolition. This time, the journey from preservation to demolition was started with a single step taken by Winter Park’s own City Commission a unanimous decision to rescind the Historic Registry listing of Capen House in September, 2012.

The Commission’s 5 – 0 vote granted a request by SunTrust bank asking the city to rescind the listing  a request motivated by the bank’s fear that historic status might reduce their proceeds from their foreclosure sale of the property.

When Capen House was sold for $2 million six months later, the new owner, John Pokorny, filed an application to demolish the historic home. More about this later.

Last week, the Voice contacted the WP Building Department and learned that the Capen House Demolition Permit is still in process — moving among city departments who must sign their approval before the permit is actually issued.

Demolition Permit Application

Narrow Escape Last Time Bulldozers Threatened Interlachen Avenue Landmark.

In 2000, Casa Feliz narrowly escaped destruction when it was slated for demolition by the new property owner, Wayne Heller.

Mr. Heller was quoted in the Orlando Sentinel as saying “If it’s [Casa Feliz] left sitting on the property, I’ll bulldoze it.”

The December, 2000 Sentinel story entitled “Owner Of Casa Feliz Gets Tired Of Waiting” paints a picture of a wealthy, frustrated property owner who misunderstood the values of his neighbors:

“Heller, who bought Casa Feliz for $3.4 million, had originally thought he would be well under way by April in building a 12,000-square-foot Mediterranean-style home.

‘Knowing what I know now, I probably wouldn’t have done it,’ Heller said of buying the property.

What he discovered, after starting demolition of Casa Feliz in September, was a potent force of Winter Park residents angered by a loss of older homes and by the unexpected assault on Casa Feliz. Responding to protests, the city halted demolition, outraging Heller but allowing for the hatching of a rescue plan.”

Click the button below to read the full Sentinel article.

Sentinel Article: “Owner of Casa”

In July, 2011 the Sentinel featured a follow-up story on the Heller property entitled “Mega-Mansion Emerges where Historic Casa Feliz Once Stood” detailing Heller’s decade-long building schedule and his decision to double the originally-planned size of the mansion,

“Despite the rush to demolish Casa Feliz, the Hellers didn’t build their new, larger house once the historic structure was moved across Interlachen Avenue to city-owned property. Instead of the two-year timetable they had envisioned, it has taken more than 10 years for them to even start the construction of their dream home — a 27,000-square-foot mansion they now hope to finish as soon as next year.”

Sentinel Article: “Mega-Mansion Emerges”

Will Winter Parkers Mount a “Potent Force” This Time Around?

Betsy Owens recently posted a note in her blog that she has been “surprised by the level of interest” in her original Capen House blog post, noting that “In the last 32 hours, more than 1800 people have visited this site. It shows that overwhelmingly, people still care about Winter Park’s retaining its unique historic value.”

Other Winter Parkers who have added their voices to the discussion include Arthur Blumenthal, Director Emeritus, Cornell Fine Arts Museum at Rollins College (click here to read his column) and Linda Kulmann, President of the Winter Park Historical Association (click here to read her column).

The consensus among the official and unofficial “preservation-minded people” who spoke with the Voice is that historic preservation enriches its citizens’ quality of life and economic well-being. They point to studies of Heritage Tourism and rising home values in historic neighborhoods as proof that preservation “pays” – and argue that it is the duty of city staff and elected officials to strongly promote historic preservation.

This argument, however implicit, was also on trial at Winter Park’s City Commission on September 24, 2012 (see video below). However, the issue explicitly brought forward by SunTrust Bank was far more narrow.

SunTrust Letter to City: We Can Sell Capen House for More if You Rescind Historic Status.

SunTrust Letter

According to a case summary submitted to the city by SunTrust Bank, the bank’s sole concern was its ability to fully recoup its $2.1 million loan in a foreclosure sale of the historic Capen House property – which had been placed on the city’s Historic Register in 2011 by homeowner Clardy Malugen. Jason Searl, the bank’s attorney summed it up this way:

“SunTrust’s ability to market and sell the Property to a third party purchaser and recoup its original loan amount is severely inhibited by this series of events set in motion by Malugen during the midst of intense litigation with her lender.” Mr. Searl claimed that Ms. Malugen “submitted the application for bad faith, tactical reasons and sought to use the designation as a basis for claiming a 50%+ discount to satisfy her debt to SunTrust.” —Excerpted from SunTrust case summary submitted to city on 8/17/12.

 


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For some, if not all the commissioners, it was Mr. Searls’ claims about Ms. Malugen’s motivation for listing Capen House in the Historic Register, and the bank’s pursuit of its collateral that appeared to carry the day.

Six Minute Commission Hearing: Two Questions. No Capen House Discussion.

In a six minute hearing that yielded two questions, no public comment and a 5 – 0 vote to strip the Capen house of its registry listing, there was no discussion of whether the home had sufficient historic value to merit its inclusion on the city’s Historic Register – regardless of the perceived intentions of its owner.

One revealing footnote in the SunTrust summary was their admission that Ms. Malugen, had, in fact, first applied to list Capen House in the Winter Park Historic Registry of Homes in 2006, shortly after she purchased the property. Ms. Malugen told the Voice that this earlier application was put on hold by her during an extended period when she sought and was ultimately granted permits to add a garage and other extensive improvements to the property. According to Malugen, the improvements totaled approximately $700,000 in addition to the $2.6 million purchase price of the property.

2011 Capen Registry Documents

Malugen: “I was not notified” of City Hearing. “Foreclosure Appeal Still Pending.”

Ms. Malugen’s original 2006 Registry application was not discussed at the hearing. Malugen says that she did not receive notice of the hearing and did not know that the hearing was being held. Another wrinkle in the case that did not come out at the hearing was the fact that Malugen had filed an appeal of the Suntrust foreclosure which was still pending in Circuit Court – an action that conceivably could have resulted in a reversal of the SunTrust foreclosure. (Ms. Malugen’s appeal failed several months later.)

Did Commission Revoke Historic Status for the Wrong Reason?

Voice interviews with city residents who are familiar with the case indicate that some observers – and possibly some commissioners – believe that SunTrust’s rescission request was based primarily on their assertion that Ms. Malugen was not entitled to apply for Historic Registry status for Capen House. Court records show that SunTrust had filed a Lis Pendens document with the court and started a foreclosure action against Ms. Malugen in 2010, the year before she applied for Registry status.

However, a review of SunTrust’s case summary submitted to the city on 8/17/12 does not reveal any explicit argument that Ms. Malugen was not entitled to file for Registry status. Instead, SunTrust appeared to be arguing three key points:

1. SunTrust faulted the city for not informing them that Malugen was applying to place Capen House on the Historic Register – giving them the same advance notice that neighbors surrounding the property at 520 N. Interlachen Avenue received. The bank conceded that city regulations do not require notice to lenders, but argued that SunTrust was, as they put it, “in economic reality, the equitable owner” of the property. The bank’s support for this argument appears to be that Ms. Malugen had not yet paid off, or significantly paid down, her home loan.

2. SunTrust questioned Ms. Malugen’s motives, claiming that she was insincere in her application for Historic Status – and was doing so for “tactical” reasons to gain leverage in her foreclosure negotiations with SunTrust.

3. SunTrust asserted that by allowing Capen House to remain on the Winter Park Register of Historic Homes the city would “severely” limit SunTrust’s ability to recoup its $2.1 million loan on the property. This assertion appears to be based on SunTrust’s belief that a home with Historic Registry Status is de-valued by the protections and oversight that are afforded to Historic Registry properties.

Capen Registry Rescission

How Realistic Was SunTrust’s Assertion That Historic Register Home on Prime Lakefront Lot Would Lose Money?

Winter Park Voice researched real estate sales data for Interlachen Avenue for a ten-year period starting in 2003. We found only one case – a $1,990,000 home sale in 2004 – where the sales price of a lakefront residence on Interlachen Avenue fell below the $2 million mark. The two Interlachen lakefront homes sold after 2010 – not including the $2,000,000 foreclosure sale of Ms. Malugen’s home (in March, 2013) – were purchased for $3.2 and $4.9 million respectively.

Kelly Price, the realtor who represented both the buyer and seller in the Capen House foreclosure sale, originally listed the home for $3.2 million in August, 2012. By February, 2013, the listing price had dropped to $2,450,000. In March, the home sold to the Pokorny family for $2,000,000.

The Voice obtained a recent appraisal on Capen House performed by Meridian Residential Appraisal on behalf of SunTrust Bank. The appraisal, dated June 17, 2011, values Capen House at $2.7 million.

2011 Capen House Appraisal

New Owner Says Capen House Has Serious Problems. Plans to Demolish Home, Replace It With “Contemporary Farmhouse.”

The Voice attempted to contact John Pokorny through a company he owns to ask about his plans for Capen House. Multiple attempts were made to reach Mr. Pokorny. By press time, Mr. Pokorny had not responded to our request for an interview. He did, however, speak with the author of Preservation Winter Park who reports:

“The new owners, John and Betsy Pokorny, intend to raze the house and build a new one in its place. The house, John told me, has serious mold and foundation problems, and the layout is untenable for his family’s needs. He has contracted with a celebrated local architect and intends to build a ‘contemporary farmhouse,’ actually smaller than the Capen House.”

According to Preservation Winter Park, Pokorny has “offered to donate the house to any group willing to move it, and contribute $10,000 toward the move.”

Click here, here and here to learn more about Capen House history from Rollins College Historical Archives. Click to read Historic Preservation Economic Impact Study here.

Winter Park Voice spoke with construction and design professionals familiar with Capen House. None of these sources has knowledge of mold or foundation problems other than “some settling” that is considered typical for well-maintained 100+ year-old homes.

2008 Capen Appraisal Reports No Problems With “Livability” or “Structural Integrity” of Property.

An appraisal of Capen House done in 2008 for Regions Bank notes that the home was “in overall good/excellent condition with no deferred maintenance noted. There was no functional or external obsolescence noted.” The report also verifies that there were no apparent physical deficiencies or adverse conditions that affect the “livability, soundness, or structural integrity of the property.” The 2011 Appraisal does note that the owner reported possible structural issues with the carriage house.

2008 Capen House Appraisal

Significant structural problems, mold or other issues that can seriously impact a home are required to be disclosed in a Seller’s Property Disclosure statement. These statements are submitted to buyers prior to the closing of each sale. The Voice contacted the sales agent, Kelly Price asking for a copy of the Disclosure. Ms. Price did not respond to our request by press time.

Unanswered Questions

Winter Park Voice has contacted many city government insiders, including members of the city Historic Preservation Board, the Mayor & Commissioners, City Manager and City Attorney. With one or two (staff) exceptions, none have responded to questions regarding Capen House and City Historical Preservation Policy.

The Voice also contacted SunTrust attorney Jason Searl, who declined comment.

During the 9/24/12 hearing, City Attorney Brown noted that there is no specific procedure in city code for rescinding Historic Landmark designation. The Voice submitted questions to city staff, officials and board members attempting to ascertain whether the rescission process the Commission followed on 9/24/12 is the process by which future rescissions will be accomplished.

We also asked whether the City Commission is empowered to rescind any Historic Landmark designation in response to a property owner request.

Clarissa Howard, Director of City Communications, has indicated that some answers may be forthcoming. Winter Park Voice will include city responses in future updates.

Should WP Historic Preservation Policy Depend on Citizens Rising Up to Rescue Threatened Landmarks?

Should WP Historic Preservation Policy Depend on Citizens Rising Up to Rescue Threatened Landmarks?


Former Secretary State of Florida, Dept. of Management Services
Attending a Winter Park Commission meeting is always a treat and, similar to Broadway shows, some are comedies, some dramas; this past Monday’s commission meeting was unfortunately a tragedy.

It was obvious from the opening that the commissioners were moved, troubled and perhaps annoyed by the community reaction to John and Betsy Pokorny (aka 520 N. INTERLACHEN, LLC) plans to demolish the Capen Home. The troubling issue here is more the how as in how this happened than the what as in what may very well happen…..again.

So one can only wonder if when assessing the appropriateness of removing the historic designation of 520 N Interlachen Avenue, the commission engaged the City’s Historic Preservation Board, the citizen board that deals with these issues for input and a recommendation. How about the Winter Park Historical group? Was their input requested at the commission meeting this past Monday? Was City staff consulted relative to their thoughts on the matter?

Frankly, did anyone even think that with only a small portion of the properties identified as “historic” in Winter Park and — given the history and location of the subject property on Lake Osceola — that SunTrust requesting the removal of the designation could mean that something unstated may be behind the request? Did any Commission or City staff take the time to check Orange County Property Records to determine who the legal owner of the property was and whether there was any extenuating circumstances given the foreclosure? So much for the Mayors comment at the commission meeting that he ”… Wants our advisory boards involved”.

Commissioner McMacken had more information on the happenings based on his time on the Historic Preservation board and had to “battle” to not be talked over to present his recollection of the facts. The majority of the commission discussion was around the first historic designation and removal … not the issue at hand which is the pending demolition.

There is an impressive list of Winter Park tragedies avoided and ones we will get to see for years to come. The demolition of Casa Feliz was avoided because concerned and dedicated citizens came to its rescue and the City made a site available. Then the Carlisle Project pitted development against preserving what one headline called “the small town charm” of the City. Resolution brought to you at great expense — again by the concerned and dedicated citizens of Winter Park.

Then the great CNL land swap and all one needs to do is look at the corner of N Denning Drive and W Morse Boulevard and compare that to the multiple parcels of land divided by railroad tracks and tainted with arsenic on North Orange Avenue and draw your own conclusions, appraisals aside, on the fairness of the swap.

So where are we? The notice was posted on the building and as of June 13th a demolition permit cannot be denied assuming all the utility disconnects and documents are filed. After that, 520 N. INTERLACHEN, LLC can proceed to demolish the building. According to Attorney Trippe Cheek, the Pokornys authorized him to voluntarily offer a 30 day delay — however he was clear in reiterating their rights to act and the fact that they had a valid demolition permit. As an observer I was rather surprised that neither the Mayor nor any commission member asked to have that formalized in a document. Attorney Trippe Cheek also made it very clear that the delay is to try and facilitate the moving of the home and nothing else … Sarah Sprinkel stated that is what we want. Sorry Commissioner, not sure everyone feels that way as the historic value is in not just the structure but the home and location.

I strongly respect the Pokorny’s property rights, the fact that they, as Mr. Cheek said, are “good stewards”, thank them for voluntarily delaying the demolition and their offer to donate funds to the “move”, however I am one driven by results and if all of this results in saving The Capen Home in, ideally, the existing location GREAT; if not one has to wonder about their community commitment and dedication.

We should also note the owners are masking their name from the process as evidenced on the Demolition Notice blanking out one name and writing in an LLC with the only visible reference to them being the electronic filing coversheet sent to the Florida Department of State, Department of Corporations showing John Pokorny’s email address. Frankly I cannot blame them not wanting their name associated with what may be the demolition of Winter Park history, many say a treasure. Folk will have to decide for themselves whether others like the bank, the realtor representing the bank and perhaps others played a role.

As for the Mayor and Commission; it should not take a public outcry to push them to do the right thing and input from the public should be encouraged and embraced rather than be seen as an annoyance; it is OUR City. You and we need to be thoughtful stewards of Winter Park’s past and present and preserve what we have enjoyed for future generations. We apparently have not learned from past mistakes, let’s work now to address the how, how we govern and balance the needs of all constituents and consistently do the right thing.

Jack Miles