Preservation Rule: Friendly or Divisive?

Preservation Rule: Friendly or Divisive?

A new alliance of Winter Park commissioners is ready to thumb its nose at a historic preservation rule and return to the good old days of four months ago.

Mayor Steve Leary, Commissioner Sarah Sprinkel and newly elected Pete Weldon want to resurrect a rule that 67 percent of a neighborhood must agree to form a historic district.

Last December, when a former commission majority reduced that threshold to 50 percent plus one, Sprinkel and Leary opposed it. Now Weldon is in their camp and leading the charge as part of a new majority. He won his seat by defeating incumbent Tom McMacken, an avid preservationist.

City residents don’t want to be forced into historic districts, Weldon insisted, likening them to homeowners associations. Requiring a 67 percent vote would create “a more friendly attitude among the neighbors.”

Sprinkel and Leary blamed the 50-percent-plus-one vote for making things “divisive” in the city.

Commissioner Carolyn Cooper saw it another way. Weldon won by less than 51 percent and the library bond issue by only 51 percent, she said. “Fifty percent plus one is democracy.”

Commissioner Greg Seidel argued he has seen no negative effects from the lower threshold and, besides, no neighborhoods have sought to form a historic district since December. Raising the threshold back to 67 percent, he said, would surely be divisive and would keep the commission from addressing more important matters, such as traffic and underground power lines. “This will just distract us,” he said. He bluntly challenged the board. “If you guys really don’t like it [the historic ordinance] that much, why don’t you just vote it out? You’re going to have the same uproar.”

Later, Seidel questioned what the commission was doing to address residents’ biggest concern. “When I ran for election, the big campaign issue was, What was I going to do to save the character of the city?” he said. “What I see the vote doing today is going in the opposite direction.”

The mayor disagreed. Leary listed three projects – the current golf course refurbishing, the Rollins College Alfond Inn and the new civic center/library – as evidence of recent actions that save the city’s character. When Seidel noted that residents might see some of those as problems, Leary shrugged. “There you go. You’re going to have an argument on everything.”

Despite the meeting’s strongly worded exchanges, commissioners reached significant compromises on historic preservation. They rejected an “opt-out” clause that would have let homeowners off the hook if they didn’t like their historic district’s rules. Leary and Sprinkel said they were satisfied reinstituting the 67 percent requirement. Commissioners also agreed to include “voluntary preservation” as a way to achieve the ordinance’s objectives, and to develop a  more detailed process for deciding a structure’s historic value.

Most commissioners also agreed the Historic Preservation Board should keep its power to grant variances to historic structures. Weldon had wanted to give that power to the Board of Adjustment, which is tougher on allowing exceptions to the building code. He said some people list their houses as historic to “game the system” and more easily receive variances..

Several residents at the meeting objected to returning to the 67 percent rule.”Let the ink dry on the paper before we change it,” said Drew Krecicki. “Let’s chill out and give it a year.”

Frank Hamner, who assisted the task force that last year revised the preservation ordinance, said the only other times the city demands a 67 percent vote is when a neighborhood  decides whether to tax itself to make improvements, such as to put in sidewalks.

No dates have been set for the public hearings and formal votes on the proposed changes.

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    By: Geri Throne – Guest Columnist

    Author / Journalist
    Geri Throne moved to Winter Park with her husband and two young children over 40 years ago, after learning about the city as a reporter for the now-defunct Winter Park Sun Herald. She wrote extensively for that weekly about city issues and local politics in the 1970s.She later joined the staff of the Orlando Sentinel where she specialized in local government issues and in the 1980s served as Winter Park bureau chief. She worked at the newspaper’s Orlando office as an assistant city editor, deputy business editor and member of the Editorial Board before her retirement in 2003. A series of her editorials won a national award for educational reporting from the Education Writers Association in 2003. Geri has published several essays and short stories. She continues to pursue her interest in fiction writing with local authors and is working on a novel set in World War II.

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4 replies
  1. Your Choice says:

    Safe to say, Weldon would not be Commissioner Weldon today if 50% + 1 for Historic Districts was the law at the time of his election.

    Winter Park voters have a habit when they elect someone new, to choose a person who will solve a particular problem for them. Residents elected Seidel to solve traffic congestion in Winter Park. Residents elected Weldon to restore their property rights.

    In 2017, it will be something else – Crime Rate, Privacy Abuses, Anti-Freedom of Speech Ordinances, $5 Million In City Taxpayer Budget Funds (over 10 years) Used For Political Communications, Dangerous Red Light Cameras, Shady Ethics, Cronyism, Excessive Taxes, or any number of other problems that incumbent Commissioners seem unwilling to solve or even admit are major problems with the City government.

    Winter Park voters are generally patient (or in denial) politically, but there comes a point on each issue where their patience (or gullibility) runs out. And that’s when the turnover happens. Normally Commissioners are the last to know, and seem quite miffed when a political upstart defeats an intrenched incumbent. That’s because after about their first week in office, Commissioners stop representing the residents.

    So, it’s your choice: A) Fight tooth and nail so you can keep your 50% + 1 Historic District approvals, even as its supporters agree that there won’t be any more Historic Districts passed with the new lower approval margin, or B) Decide this ain’t the hill you want to fight on and save your steam for something having more public support that you can win on.

    Historic District folks would, for example, have a better chance of winning the 2017 City Commission election if they ran a candidate who opposes the City ordinance that resulted in a 70 year old lady being arrested in Winter Park for reading her Bible (a City ordinance sponsored by the incumbent Commissioner seeking re-election in 2017), than they would backing a one-story-concrete-block-home-hugger to run against her. Politics is not rocket science. Find out what the residents want and give it to them. Learn from Weldon’s election.

  2. C. Dawson says:

    Does anyone know why so many trees were cut down on the “old golf course” as we prepare for the “new golf course?” When those trees came down, it seemed to “just happen” and then they were gone. I would urge everyone to go take a look at holes seven, eight, and nine. There is not one hurricane that has come through town that has managed to do such damage.

    In addition, everyone should know that when you see a tree with a yellow painted line across the front, this means that tree is slated to be removed. The huge oak on the north side of North Park Avenue was recently removed at the request of the property owner. Two senior Winter Park arborists admitted, off the record, that the tree was in perfectly good health with no issues whatsoever. The largest oak on Palmer, half way down, north side, has such a mark as I write.

    A younger, perfectly healthy tree was removed from the sidewalk/city property in front of a home on a northwest corner of Phelps by the owner because the property is supposed to “look clean.” This was one of the trees that we all paid for after Hurricane Charlie, and was watered independently (watering truck) for over a year afterward. Both of these trees are just examples of what we are seeing on every street.

    Where is our city headed with all of this? How is it that anyone can simply take down any tree they like? While that statement may be denied, the truth is, ANY TREE CAN BE CUT OWN, especially if you have friends where it counts. Again, thanks to Pete Weldon our trees are no longer protected (something he managed to take care of two years ago). Jobs are created by cutting these large trees. People’s back’s are scratched. Excuses are made. Replacements are planted that will take one-hundred years to make any sort of difference in the canopy.

    IF there’s going to be an argument for everything, can we all join hands and at least argue FOR THE TREES?

  3. Anonymous says:

    I agree with restoring the 67 percent rule. The Historic district idea as constructed is divisive at

    best, and arguably illegal at worst. What about pre-existing property rights? Who

    pays for opportunity loss?

    This is an accident in wait of a substantial lawsuit.

    Time to get smart and not let emotions rule.

    Brian Furey

    Winter Park, Fl 32789

  4. William A. Bridges, Jr. says:

    Six years ago when a ballot referendum called for a super majority of Commissioners to change the Comprehensive Plan – which dramatically affects our City – Weldon railed against it. Here were his exact words in his “Winter Park Perspective” on February 10, 2010:

    “On Tuesday, Winter Park voters will decide whether to require a super majority vote (4-1) of city commissioners when changing land use practices within our comprehensive plan. A “no” vote in opposition to Amendment 10 will assure that a minority will not control future land use in Winter Park.”

    Now, if neighbors want to create a Historic District, he has succeeded in increasing the vote required from a simple majority to a 67% super majority. In other words, he now wants to ensure that a minority will control land use in Winter Park.

    I find this remarkably inconsistent.


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