Historic Preservation: Are We Getting Serious?

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

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.


  • author's avatar

    By: Tom Childers

    Tom was the previous editor of the Winter Park Voice and a citizen of Winter Park. He was a tireless advocate for Winter Park.

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