The city of Pensacola’s current process for demolishing a structure that does not fall within a designated historic district can be summed up pretty simply, as City Councilman Brian Spencer did for the Pensacola Planning board Tuesday.
“It takes a check mark in a box, it can all happen in a day,” Spencer told the board. “It’s sort of like Emeril Lagasse’s cooking show — ‘BAM! It’s done!‘ — so, we’re hoping you can improve on our BAM! method of the demolition permitting process.”
In July city council requested that the planning board take on the task of determining how best to safeguard the city’s historically significant structures. Board members decided unanimously to do so this week, but not before some discussion on the matter.
Much of the discussion centered on what constituted a historical structure. Both board members and Councilman Spencer indicated they were not stuck on a 100-year threshold — a criteria outlined in the proposed 180-day demolition moratorium city council will look at Thursday.
“We recognize that a date is somewhat myopic and limiting in determining what is historic,” Spencer said, explaining that he needed to put the parameter on his proposed moratorium, but didn’t expect the date-specific criteria to carry over to the planning board’s conversation.
The councilman conceded that cultural significances would probably play a role in determining a structure’s historical significance. He noted that many of the city’s structures that would not fall under the protection of the moratorium may still be worth saving and considering historically significant.
“Some the neighborhoods and districts that have a particular vernacular, an architectural language that may not be at all 100 years old, but can very much uniquely define a multi-block district or an era,” Spencer said. “If too many of those building are erased, the very fabric, I’ll call it the attraction quotient, or the authenticity quotient, or index, the authenticity index of that area is in jeopardy and eventually it evaporates.”
The city council began exploring the issue of protecting historic structures as the community debated the demolition of the John Sunday house, which was built by and belonged to a prominent turn-of-the-century African-American businessman and politician. That structure was demolished in July to make way for townhomes.
Pensacola Inspection Services Administrator Bill Weeks informed the planning board that over the course of the summer only one other structure that the city granted a demolition permit for would meet the 100-year threshold laid out in the moratorium. Aside from the Sunday house, there was the West Hill Taxi Stand, or 417 W. Belmont St., both built in 1901. The taxi stand was also demolished in July.
According to city Public Information Officer Vernon Stewart, the city has issued a total of 16 demolition permits since the beginning of June. The next oldest structure listed is 212 E. Jordan St., built in 1928.
One structure that historic preservation proponents have championed is 422 W. Gregory St., which stands to be cleared to make way for a residential development. A demolition permit for that structure — listed as being built in 1938 — was issued last week.
Prior to the planning board deciding to tackle the issue, Weeks offered some words of caution. He called the directive of city council a “very noble effort,” but stressed the importance of defining what exactly constituted “historic,” as opposed to simply old.
“I think you have to pick out what is historic and what’s not, other than just picking out a date,” he said.
Weeks also pointed at areas like East Hill, where he said the city had issued more that 130 new construction permits, and said such development needed to be considered.
“So, you’re going to put a quash on that,” Weeks said.
City council will consider its moratorium on demolition of structures one hundred years old or older in order to allow the planning board time to assess the city’s demolition process during its meeting Thursday, 5:30 p.m. at Pensacola City Hall.
Here is a list of the structures the city has issued demolition permits for from June through early August: demolition list