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