Categories: government

Defining ‘Historic’

by Jeremy Morrison

The city of Pensacola is edging closer to establishing some safeguards for its historic structures, as well as defining what constitutes such a structure in the first place. In October, planning board members will take a look at a potential criteria for designating a property as historic, and a draft ordinance establishing a historic preservation board.

This summer, the Pensacola City Council tasked the planning board with exploring the issue of historic structure protections following the demolition of a property once belonging to John Sunday, a prominent turn-of-the-century African-American businessman and politician. Currently, properties outside of the city’s already-established historic districts do not have such protections.

The John Sunday house in downtown Pensacola, a few days prior to being demolished in July.

The defining criteria being considered to determine a property’s historic value centers on three different aspects: a property’s age and “historical significance,” its architectural significance and its geographical location. In order to be designated as a “historic structure” — and thus afforded protections — a property must meet a certain threshold within these areas.

According to the criteria being considered, a property must meet at least one sub-criterion in two or more of the three categories of history, architecture and geography in order to be deemed a historic structure.

In the historical significance category, a property needs to be at least 30 years old or have “extraordinary importance to the historical development of Pensacola.” It might also “have direct association with the historical development of the city, state, or nation,” or “be the site of a significant historic event” or “have direct and substantial association with a person or group of persons who had influence on society.”

In order to have “architectural significance,” a structure “shall have design quality and integrity” and could also “embody distinguishing characteristics or an architectural style or type,” or “be a significant example of the work of a recognized architect or master builder” or “contain elements or architectural design, engineering, materials, craftsmanship, or artistic merit which represent a significant or influential innovation” or “portray the environment of a group of people or physical development of an area in an era of history characterized by a distinctive architectural style.”

To have “geographical significance” a structure needs to either “have a prominent location or be an established, familiar, and orienting visual feature of the contemporary city,” or “promote understanding and appreciation of the urban environment by means of distinctive physical characteristics or rarity” or “make a special contribution to Pensacola’s distinctive character.”

These determinations would be made by the historic preservation board. That board is blueprinted by the draft ordinance that will be considered.

As defined in the ordinance, the historic preservation board would consist of seven members appointed by the city council. Members will need to be either city residents or property owners, and at least four of its members will need to be “licensed or qualified professionals including architects, historians, real estate agents, property appraisers, planners, engineers, building contractors, landscape architects, or have other experience relating to historic preservation.”

In addition to reviewing demolition requests to determine if a subject property falls into the realm of “historic,” the board would also carry a number of other responsibilities. It would establish and maintain an official local register of historic sites and districts; and assist and advise owners of historic sites on physical and financial aspects of preservation, renovation, rehabilitation and reuse; and also develop programs designed to stimulate public interest in historic preservation and explore funding opportunities geared toward such preservation.

The structure at 417 W. Belmont, which once served as a taxi stand in the historic African-American neighborhood of Belmont-Devilliers, was demolished over the summer.

Currently, there is a six-month demolition moratorium in place for properties within the city that are one hundred or more years old. That moratorium was issued by city council in an effort to allow the planning board, and later the council itself, time to determine the process and parameters needed to protect historic structures; Mayor Ashton Hayward has weighed in against such measures, contending that it could stymie development within the city.

According to the city’s numbers (based on records from the Escambia County Property Appraiser) there are 1,105 properties that are more than 100 years old within the city limits. Properties dating back 25 years or more are considerably more plentiful, with 21,874 such properties listed.

Properties lying within certain special districts, such as the Historic District, where 131 of the 100-plus-year-old properties are located, already have protections in place. Neighboring areas, however — such as the Belmont-Devilliers neighborhood, where residents have raised concerns about recent demolitions and developments, as well as maintaining historical integrity — have similar-aged properties which have no protections in place.

The Pensacola Planning Board will be discussing the daft ordinance establishing the preservation board, as well as the historic-definition particulars during its Oct. 11 meeting, scheduled for 2 p.m. at Pensacola City Hall.

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View Comments (1)

  • Very informative article. Thanks

    Hayward is "trying to be a developer". He has failed in every development so far. So he is allowing successful developers to destroy our history. So sad for Pensacola.