Preservation interests bumped up against homeowners’ investments when the St. Petersburg City Council voted against designating a home that a noted businessman once lived in as a historical landmark.
The move clears the way for demolition of the structure, the “Doc Webb House” at 774 36th Ave. N. The current owners, Merrill and Karen King, signed a deal in October with a developer, Weekley Homes, who plans to build four new homes on the property.
City staff earlier had recommended historic designation for the home, where James E. “Doc” Webb lived from 1935 to 1964. Webb owned Webb’s City, which has been called “the world’s most unusual drug store” and evolved from a small and fairly traditional store established in the 1920s to a downtown destination, according a staff report.
City staff made the recommendation after the King’s neighbor, Anne Dowling, filed an application in November, asking the home be designated an historic landmark and be added to the St. Petersburg Register of Historic Places. Dowling said she represented Allendale Terrace Neighbors United on the application. The Kings said she never spoke to them about the issue prior filing the application.
An attempt to reach a compromise, retaining the home and part of the property while allowing the Kings to sell the rest of the property, fell apart a few weeks ago.
Dozens of people spoke both in favor of the historic designation, and against it, during a four-hour hearing Thursday night at City Hall, including Karen King.
“Like most people, we bought this home to raise our family and sell it for a profit for our retirement,” King said. “Being forced to spend tens of thousands of dollars to fight for our property rights has been forced down our throats and it’s hard to swallow. That’s a line between wanting preservation and tortious interference. Anne Dowling and Preserve the ‘Burg have crossed that line.”
Several city council members voiced concerns about the process, which allows a third party to file for landmark designation. That was not the purpose of the hearing, said Shirin Vesely, an attorney representing Dowling and Allendale Terrace Neighbors United.
“There is one issue, does this meet the criteria? It absolutely meets the criteria,” Vesely said. “What is before you is not whether this is a bad process. This is the process in place.”
Council member Lisa Wheeler-Bowman was among those who have said they want to change the process.
“The third-party designation is giving me heartburn,” Wheeler-Bowman 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 was one of four council members who voted against historic designation, along with Gina Driscoll, Brandi Gabbard and Ed Montanari. Council members Darden Rice and Amy Foster supported the designation.