Wednesday, May 18, 2016

What happens when historic preservation becomes overzealous and onerous: There needs to be a balance.

[Below is a post from last January which followed a particularly memorable meeting by the South Palm Park neighborhood here in Lake Worth. What happened at that meeting spread throughout the City quickly and received a lot of attention. It was that meeting that prompted me to write the blog post below. This issue was a major topic at Mayor Pam Triolo's State of the City Address. The public desire to have a workshop on this issue was always strong but since then has gained steam. This workshop is finally a reality and will be at City Hall beginning at 6:00 this evening (Wed. 5/18). 

Although you may not wish to speak publicly it's very important to show up and watch the proceedings and learn more about this issue. I encourage everyone to be respectful to staff and the HRPB despite your thoughts about historic preservation in this City, one way or the other. The blog post from last January follows:

In July of 2015 I resigned as the chair of the Historic Resource Preservation Board in Lake Worth. The reason for that resignation had nothing at all to do with my thoughts that follow.

First some background: There are six different historic districts in Lake Worth. They take up a good portion of the eastern half of the city. If you happen to own property there, commercial or residential, the changes that you make to your building are regulated to a greater degree than if you own property outside those districts. What kind of roof, windows, doors, siding, additions and new construction all face a higher level of scrutiny than do properties outside of a historic district. Owning property in a historic district, over time, has been proven to increase the property's value. However, there is a fine balance between maintaining the historic character of a district (or neighborhood) and the inconvenience, or worse, for the property owners within that district.

I did not attend the meeting of the South Palm Park Neighborhood Association but have heard a lot about what happened; there was discussion about how the property owners and residents can get out from under the regulations related to being in a historic district which they feel have become unduly onerous. This is disquieting news for someone who is a strong advocate for reasonable historic preservation efforts. However, I hear more and more complaints from people who are trying to improve their properties within historic districts and how the process has become cumbersome. The complaints range from the time it takes to review a request/permit, to not being able to communicate with staff, and to property owners being treated abruptly and with little sympathy.

There are sound reasons for the establishment of historic districts, but everyone must be aware of the impact those regulations have on the property owners and, more importantly, how they are administered. I think that Lake Worth is crossing the line in terms of being overzealous in the way it deals with requests, for both contributing and non-contributing properties. The scale needs to be tipped back towards the side of reasonableness and with a keen awareness of the need for an efficient review of applications in a timely manner. My fear is if the city continues its present approach we are in jeopardy of losing the benefits of a respected historic preservation program and it will appear to be more of a burden than it is worth to investors, homeowners, and possible future residents.

If you've had an issue I encourage you to speak out. If you wish to document your experience you can email me at Please try to refrain from using specific names of people at the City you have had interaction with and use the generic term "staff" in your comments. I will gather all this information and then decide how to proceed. I will follow your instructions on whether or not you wish to keep your anonymity.

Thank You,