by Jeremy Morrison
The city of Pensacola is one step closer to safeguarding its historic structures after city council members gave their initial approval Thursday evening to a 180-day moratorium on the demolition of such structures.
“This is not putting our city in some state of paralysis as far as development goes,” said Councilman Brian Spencer, fending off criticism of the moratorium.
The councilman said the moratorium — which puts a six month halt to demolishing structures built in 1916 or before — is intended to “simply serve as a bridge,” giving the city’s planning board time to determine a proper process for better protecting properties deemed to have historical value. Not everyone was on board.
Dan Lindemann was one such opponent of the measure.
“I think we need to really think about this,” he told the council. “Some of these little homes, they’ve gotta go bye-bye.”
Lindemann, a downtown business owner who served on the city’s Architectural Review Board, said that some properties that would fall under the moratorium are old, but not historic — “What I worry about, I’ll just call’em derelict properties” — and that they shouldn’t be afforded protections that would only serve to slow new development of the property.
Omar Nagi, a Pensacola real estate agent, also spoke against the moratorium. He called the measure’s 100-year threshold “kind of arbitrary” and said a halt to tear-downs could negatively impact both development, as well as property owners looking to sell their homes to developers.
“It can unfairly impact owners in the way of progress, especially on the west side,” Nagi said, adding that, in the real estate game, “six months could mean a change in interest rates and change in the market, a change in opportunity.”
But others urged council to move forward with the moratorium, and then on to determining the city’s historic stock and how best to ensure that structures determined to have historic value — whatever that might come to be defined as — are protected.
“We think it’s a great idea,” said Robert Overton, executive director of the University of West Florida’s Historic Trust.
The trust would likely be the entity charged with taking an inventory of the city’s historic structures. Overton noted that it might be a good idea to slow down on the demolitions — “for everybody to take a step back” — until the city determines how best to move forward and ensure “smart development.”
Christian Wagley, president of the Old East Hill Neighborhood Association, spoke about how population bases were returning to downtown city cores — calling it “good news” — and about how such a re-migration could lead to losses.
“City’s are cool again,” Wagley said. “Now we’re moving back to cities, and unfortunately we’re losing some of our history along the way.”
Other people spoke about how the demolitions often made way for developments that didn’t jive with the neighborhood’s character. And about how many of the demolitions were occurring in traditionally African-American neighborhoods. And about how some of the smaller structures — referred to by critics as “shotgun houses” — would make nice, attainable homes.
“They’re affordable and they have good bones for renovations,” said Beverly Perry, a resident of the Belmont-Devilliers neighborhood.
Most city council members seemed to agree that the moratorium and further exploration of the issue — which has already begun via the planning board — was a good idea.
“This community is ready to move forward and address this issue,” said Councilwoman Sherri Myers.
Ultimately, the council decided to approve the moratorium on its first public hearing — on a 6-2 vote — but not without prescribing some “tweaking” before the measure returns to them for final approval.
The tweaking essentially amounts to clarifying that the moratorium referrers to complete demolitions — as opposed to interior remodeling jobs — and that the city’s building official could overstep the moratorium if a particular property was determined to be unsalvageable and a “public safety” issue.
The needed tweaks were the primary reason that Council President Charles Bare voted against the measure Thursday. He said he may end up supporting the moratorium, but not until changes were made.
“I’m just not one to vote for a shell bill that will be amended,” Bare said, saying the current moratorium language was “too vague for me.”
Bare was joined in his dissent by Councilman Andy Terhaar.