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St. Pete City Council to discuss amending controversial historic designation process

Megan Holmes

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Two members of the St. Petersburg City Council separately submitted new business items for this week’s City Council agenda, to consider revising the city’s current historic landmark preservation process.

Council members Amy Foster and Brandi Gabbard each submitted new business items regarding the ordinance after last week’s City Council meeting, in which a four-hour debate of the James E. “Doc” Webb Estate and the “Holiday Motel” properties dominated the discussion and pulled dozens of community members for and against the properties’ historic designation.

Despite staff recommendations for approval of both properties, each was denied by City Council.

In her new business item, which will be heard this Thursday, Foster requested a special meeting between City Council and the Community Planning and Preservation Committee (CPPC) to discuss the historic preservation process. In her request, she stated, “In the Council proceedings on May 9, 2019 the majority of the body expressed discomfort with third party applications for historical designation. Additionally, on April 9, 2019 the CPPC expressed a desire for a joint meeting with Council to discuss challenges with the current preservation ordinance.”

Council member Brandi Gabbard, District 2

Gabbard’s new business item echoes Foster’s, but hers was deferred to a June 6 meeting. Regardless, Gabbard says she looks forward to the conversation with her colleagues. What stands out about the two properties from last week’s meeting in particular, Gabbard told the St. Pete Catalyst, was the proposed designation of these sites against the wishes of the owners of both properties. As part of St. Petersburg’s historic preservation ordinance, the property owner, any St. Petersburg resident, or any organization located in St. Petersburg may submit an application for historic designation. This process, known as third-party designation, can halt demolition plans in their tracks, pending a hearing in front of City Council.

“There is a time and place for historic preservation,” Gabbard told the St. Pete Catalyst. “I think it’s great when a property owner chooses that designation, or a neighborhood comes together and overwhelming votes for the historic designation.”

“It’s third-party designation that I am very concerned about,” said Gabbard, a self-described private property rights advocate. “When someone comes in and files that designation against the property owner’s wishes, that has me very concerned.”

Gabbard says what prompted her new business item in particular was the divisiveness on display during last week’s meeting. “It creates bitterness between neighbors and pits people against one another. I wasn’t on Council when the ordinance to allow third-party designation was passed, but I can’t imagine that this was the intention.”

Gabbard and Foster were not the only councilmembers to voice their concerns on Thursday. Council member Lisa Wheeler-Bowman spoke out against the process in Council chambers.

“The third-party designation is giving me heartburn,” she said. “We are definitely going to have to revisit this process. This is not the first time and it keeps coming up. I believe in preservation and I support the preservationists, but homeowners have rights as well, and we have to figure out where the balance is when it comes to this.”

Wheeler-Bowman and Gabbard voted against the designation of the Webb house, along with council members Ed Montanarai and Gina Driscoll. Foster and council member Darden Rice voted in favor of the designation.

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