Battle brews in Old Northeast
Two sides square off over putting the neighborhood on the Local Register of Historic Places.
By WAVENEY ANN MOORE
Published April 16, 2006
ST. PETERSBURG - Election-style signs are popping up under shady oaks that line the quaint brick streets and hexagon block sidewalks of the Historic Old Northeast.
Blue and white signs urge residents to vote "yes'' on a proposal to put the neighborhood on the Local Register of Historic Places.
Red and white signs urge the opposite.
To succeed, proponents must get support from at least two-thirds of the 2,200 homes in the area roughly between Fifth and 30th avenues N and from Fourth Street N to the waterfront.
A small area of the neighborhood, Granada Terrace, is already a local historic district and will keep its status regardless of how the rest of the neighborhood votes, city officials say.
The issue has become controversial, with each side accusing the other of distorting facts. Adding to the confusion is the fact that the neighborhood is already on the National Register of Historic Places. Those who oppose the new initiative say the national designation already serves the area well and that there is no need for more government involvement in their lives. Their battle cry is, "Preserve your property rights.''
Proponents of the local historic designation say inclusion on the National Register is largely honorary, that it does nothing to prevent developers from indiscriminately tearing down structures and replacing them with buildings that are out of character in the neighborhood. Leaders of the initiative add that local historic status would slow teardowns, protect the distinct flavor and architectural character of the area, ensure a stable neighborhood and boost property values.
Robin Reed, who heads the committee working for local historic status, said that most Old Northeast homeowners moved there because of its charm.
"So, our question to them is, why don't you want to preserve that?'' said Reed, who moved from New Jersey several years ago with her husband, Joe.
"We're really not trying to freeze a neighborhood in any point in time,'' Joe Reed said. "We're talking about the history of the Old Northeast as a neighborhood.''
Organizers on the other side see the issue as an assault on property rights and say the designation would open the door to busybodies throughout the city and government red tape under the ordinance that governs local historic districts.
"The local ordinance shackles the buyer and the seller,'' said Dan Richardson, adding that it is not conducive to anyone who wants to renovate, add on or build a new home. "We know that it will harm our property values ... If you're concerned about demolition, then change the demolition law.''
The city ordinance, said retired lawyer Joe Miele, who lives across the street from Richardson, "shouts in the face'' of the Constitution. The city's building codes and neighborhood design review process already offer adequate oversight, he said.
"It's not the idea of historical preservation we object to; it's the ordinance and the raw power it creates,'' Richardson said.
On a scale of one to 10, St. Petersburg's local historic ordinance ranks about a five in its level of scrutiny compared with others across the nation, said Bob Jeffrey, assistant director of development services for the city.
"I don't think the average homeowner in Old Northeast, as they do renovations or alterations to their house, is going to notice a significant change,'' he said.
Under the ordinance, projects that exceed $50,000 would have to be approved by the Historic Preservation Commission, he said. The commission would also have to approve demolitions.
"People need to arm themselves with the facts,'' he said. "We don't regulate paint colors. People still have a lot of latitude to what they want to do.''
Jeffrey said exterior work is reviewed in local historic districts and requires a building permit and certificate of appropriateness. Interior work is reviewed only if a homeowner chooses to use federal or local tax credits, he said. Routine maintenance does not require review. Homeowners can make additions, though those are regulated. The city encourages them, Jeffrey said. "We recognize that the typical house built in the 1920s may be smaller than what people want today,'' he said.
Opponents of the local historic district have 10 main objections. One disputes studies, referred to by proponents, contending that local historic districts stimulate housing values. Just the opposite, they say.
They also say that if residents approve the district "all you do is further empower the government to impose rather than negotiate any changes to your home and property like the color of your windows.''
The push for the district began in 2004, with a small number of volunteers. This time around, the neighborhood association has marshaled 35 people to visit each household with packets that make the case for local historic status.
[Last modified April 16, 2006, 08:43:49]
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