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,



Anonymous said...

My biggest complaint is the time it takes for the extra review. Overall, after 15 years of owning two properties in a historic district I've not had any real problems in getting things approved except it seems to take too long (but I think that is also an overall problem with the City of Lake Worth in general and not specific to historic preservation).

I wish there was a lot more time by this board spent on making sure historic properties are not torn down and that new builds are in character with the neighborhood (i.e. not permitting a 4 story office building on top of small cottages or not permitting a McMansion next to a historic cottage) then things like paint color or who is allowed to have a metal roof. To me, as someone who invested in a historic neighborhood, I am more concerned about the overall character of my neighborhood than I am about roofing materials.

Doctor Potty, Plumbing Consultant said...

Aimee Sunny and William Waters were invited to speak at the South Palm Park annual meeting last Monday, January 11th. The reason for the invitation was to address the process of application through approval for making improvements to your property. Aimee gave a comprehensive overview of the historic preservation districts and how standards are established. I was quite surprised to find out that there are "national" standards (as opposed to community standards) governing how these improvements are to be made.

Over a period of time, I have been approached by many ( I mean many) neighbors with their concerns and their side of battles they have fought with the staff in getting everything from windows approved to hoops they had to jump for fences to roofs and by hearing their side, it seems the way they are treated is somewhat harsh and inflexible.

1st was an issue of requiring a survey "done within two years" for a fence permit. Why wouldn't a survey ten years ago be sufficient? 6? 15? The property lines haven't changed. The two year requirement seemed arbitrary and egregious. When I asked for any documentation supporting the reasoning behind the rule, I was given some story about "people showing up with a drawing on a napkin". I can understand the need for a survey, just not the two year or newer rule.

2nd, much more recent, a neighboring house was recently purchased. It has an asphalt shingle roof that needs to be replaced. The new owner would like to upgrade to a metal roof. Many homes in our neighborhood have metal roofs. My house has a metal roof and once had asphalt shingles. They were told flat out, "no metal roof". The house was originally constructed with a cement tile roof. While metal is a big improvement over shingles, it is not quite as good as cement tile. They would be allowed to replace the shingles with shingles or cement tile, jut not the metal roof.

3rd, Windows. This could take a few paragraphs alone, but lets just say there is no room for compromise. People want to make improvements on their homes but cannot afford to meet these stiff requirements and therefore do nothing.

We were told that our building department was going to improve in the amount of time it takes to review and get back with owners. That, if you listen to people put through the ringer, isn't happening. Calls and e-mails go unreturned. Once the application is denied, there seems little effort to find a solution. Yes, you can appeal the decision but that'll cost you $340 with the implied probability you will be turned down by the board.

Something needs to change. The attitude needs to turn around to a position of "how can we make this happen" instead of "No". The "administrative fee" seems arbitrary and high. I have to wonder how much revenue has been generated last year by these fees? The board is volunteer and staff is salaried and have to attend board meetings as part of their job. Just three cases raises $1,000 for what?

I have e-mailed staff with questions I thought could only be answered by "that's just the way we do it" because there are no other reasons, and obviously didn't get a response. One such question deals with a permit application requirement that differs from EVERY other city in Palm Beach County and the County itself. Never got a reply.

I believe there needs to be a group effort, whether it is a workshop or a town hall meeting or Obama's executive action to get someone's attention to the need for change. (or hope)

I certainly hope more people comment about their experiences here and if the opportunity presents itself, join the group effort for positive change.

Chip Guthrie, member
South Palm Park Neighborhood Association

Anonymous said...

There certainly is money being made by all the bureaucratic processes in our City, I think that is a feature not a bug. The City charges high fees, and those fees have gone up repeatedly over the many years I've lived here, because tax revenue has gone down. City has to make it up somewhere I guess their point is that if you are asking the City to undertake work (by reviewing a permit) then you have to pay the costs associated b/c the City is not supporting itself with tax revenue.

The metal roof issue is the one that makes me scratch my head the most. The decisions that come out of the committee seem to permit any new development to have metal roofs but not existing structures, even when it is appropriate for the architecture. We have a lot of key west cottage type homes in our neighborhoods, why can't they have metal roofs? There also seems to be some real "its who you know" going on, otherwise some of these rulings are completely inconsistent. That undermines the whole process and the point of having a historic preservation board.

Doctor Potty, Plumbing Consultant said...

At last evening's State of the City address, I spoke with William Waters and learned there are plans in the works to have a sort of workshop or town hall meeting to address the "perceived" inconsistencies. We did get into some specifics but there are some areas we are just going to disagree. You either have a historic neighborhood and keep it true to its history or you start that slippery slope.

Some inconsistencies have been due to his staff changing and in the interim, staff approving things that might have been appropriate to approve. But one mistake does not a policy make. His policy is now, that if your request is not in conforming with the guidelines that have been established, then you must go before the board. We are hoping to get a little leeway from staff that might reduce the board applications. That opens up the "who you know" scenario. I look forward to the meeting and hope it is well attended.

Chip Guthrie
Member, South Palm Park NA

Anonymous said...

I believe the entire system is crazy. We have old junk houses that need to come down and new homes built. These old house are an eyesore and devalue the homes around them. Let's get real, there is nothing historic here just old homes falling apart. All we need is guidelines that require new homes to conform to certain standards.

Anonymous said...

If Historic Preservation went away the City's feel and look would change dramatically and everyone complainging now about having to deal with HP ... they would then be complaining about the City changing for the worse.

HP has a great deal of value. It is cumbersome and annoying but has very positive affect. People need to see the big picture.

The process needs tweaking and the staff needs to slow their roll But clearly that is the direction the City is going in and the workshops will help get that information out to the public.

Anonymous said...

I agree that historic preservation is important and should stay. On the other hand, the results are often inconsistent which gives off the impression that there is a "who you know" and/or "if we like you" process going on, neither is fair or appropriate. For example, some people have been allowed to use what I will call fake wood siding on historic properties and others have not, why is that?

The roof issue is a big one for many people. Roofs are expensive and the powers that be are all over the place with what they allow, don't allow. Yes, some of that is guided by the style of home and what it had before, but it should be guided by what your neighbor has? Right now it is. I think if the roof rules were changed or adjusted, 75% of complaints would be resolved. The remaining 15% of complaints are people who complain that they can't bulldoze their historic structure or want to undertake major and extensive renovations that basically bulldoze the house. The rest are misc. issues.

Anonymous said...

Most of these homes have no historic value. I could care less if the roof is metal or anything else as long as the house looks good. Old run down pieces of shit should come down and new homes should be built. There is absolutely no reason to believe that the new home would degrade the neighborhood when the old home is beyond repair. Time to shut down this bad idea and go back to reality. Has anyone seen the junk on south Lakeside and the new homes that have gone up. To say that without an historic status the neighborhood would be hurt is without any basis.

LWLocal said...

If the city isn’t careful all that rebranding might come off like bait&switch. Getting people to relocate here and their first experience with historic staff is a nightmare. They say it’s easy to getting things done so walk the walk and stop blowing smoke. It’s either good service and quick and with a smile or it isn’t. Get with your own program. You sold it so make it happen.

Anonymous said...

So put aside the fact that the City makes you put a more expensive roof on (often double the cost of a regular roof) if your house is historic, they also charge you more for the permitting. Permitting is done by % of total value of construction, being forced to put a $20,000 roof on means a $600 permit fee, If the City is forcing people to use more expensive materials b/c the house is historic they should not charge them MORE for permitting.