by Jeremy Morrison
[updated to include meeting time]
The Pensacola Planning Board decided this week to gather public input prior to making any decisions about what constitutes a “historic structure” and what protections such a structure should be afforded.
“We don’t want to be the only ones to be offering opinions and ideas on what this is,” Planning Board Chairman Paul Ritz said a couple of days after the board’s decision.
Ritz said that the planning board will likely host two public workshops, the first planned for late October. He’s hoping to see a “cross-section of the citizenry” represented at the events, which will offer an opportunity for residents in neighborhoods with older structures to weigh in on the subject.
“In what might be considered a more casual, workshop-style forum,” Ritz said.
This summer, the Pensacola City Council requested that the planning board assess how best to safeguard structures considered to have historic or cultural value from demolitions. Following the high profile demolition of the John Sunday House — built by a prominent turn-of-the-century African-American businessman — and the passionate debate that preceded it, the council enacted a six month moratorium on structures 100-years-old or older in order.
During their Oct. 11 meeting, planning board members were given a draft ordinance to consider. The draft — derived from Gainesville, Fla. — laid out criteria to consider when assessing a structure’s historical value or significance, and also called for the creation of a board to evaluate and decide upon demolition applications for such properties.
Ritz said that the draft was “shot down” due to the new-board aspect.
“Because the city doesn’t necessarily want to support another board,” the chairman explained. “The planning board voted to disregard that draft because it pertains to too many things we’re not trying to accomplish.”
While the city council unanimously requested the planning board to dig into the historic structure issue, Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward has come out against the demolition moratorium and the prospect of new protections. He contends such a move could serve to slow down new development in the city.
Ritz said that the planning board is inviting representatives from the University of West Florida’s Historic Trust, as well as from its archeological department to participate in the workshops. The first event is slated for Oct. 25, at 2 p.m. at Pensacola City Hall.