Friday, August 18, 2017

“People are crying for some type of relief.” And, “Every single day hear the problems.”

Here are more quotes from the Lake Worth City Commission meeting last Tuesday, August 16th, about the City’s historic preservation program:

  • “We need to clean this mess up . . . we have egg on our faces.”
  • “Subjective use of guidelines.”
  • “Think this effort is to thwart the will of the Commission.”

Now you be the judge.

Let’s take a look back to June 2016 when this issue was once again at the “boiling point”.

The problems with historic preservation here in the City of Lake Worth “came to a head” in early January 2016. The public had had enough. Because of what happened in the City’s South Palm Park neighborhood the City couldn’t ignore any longer the public mood: angst, frustration, and yes, anger as well. Meetings were then scheduled by the City coordinated with neighborhood groups to hear (and listen?) to the public provide input. And they, the public, did turn out.

Question: Do you think anything will be different in 2018? Are you confident? Yes or no?

Let’s take a look back to June 2016, a blog post titled,

“Notes and observations [with emphasis added] from last Monday’s [June 20th, 2016] meeting on future of Lake Worth’s Historic Preservation efforts”

These community meetings are the result of much negative feedback towards the historic preservation program and its enforcement in Lake Worth. Input is being accepted from the public which will hopefully result in changes to the program. The information collected will be integrated into a report and be the basis for improvements to the code and administration of the program to be reviewed by the Historic Resource Preservation Board (HRPB) and ultimately the City Commission.

A large crowd showed up on a Monday night.
Sizeable turnout. Note there is a news blackout at the Post about this situation despite the “special attention” we get each and every

The staff interacted with the audience and took questions. Here are a few questions from the Parrot Cove/Mango Groves workshop agenda last Monday:
  • Why did you choose to move to Lake Worth and make it your home?
  • What do you like/dislike about your neighborhood?
  • What would you like to see the City do to help improve your neighborhood?
Due to a scheduling conflict I missed the first half of the meeting but several in attendance took notes and forwarded those to me. What follows is a summary from that information and my observations:

Many of the complaints were about the length of time it takes to get a permit within a historic district. There was also discussion about the relative importance of the program in light of other factors such as the need for modern impact windows and doors (for storms and security as well), roofs, and our precarious property insurance situation. Many people expressed frustration about the economic impact of living in a historic district. Too many suggestions by City staff are very expensive alternatives that break the budget of many homeowners.

Those in attendance were informed that the historic districts will be resurveyed. The last time this was done was about fifteen years ago. As time passed structures considered non-contributing 15 years ago may now be contributing in next survey. It’s my personal opinion that City staffs’ approach to non-contributing structures within a historic district is a big reason for the pushback on the entire historic preservation program.

One of the most disturbing things to hear is more grumbling from homeowners wanting to “opt out” of historic districts in the City. A historic preservation program with community support wouldn’t be hearing this from its residents. Instead, if the program did have broad public support there would be more talk from other neighborhoods in Lake Worth to “opt in”. That is not happening.

Here is a comment from one of those about the meeting:
“Nothing was said that hasn't been said 1000 times. Everything is slow. Nobody calls me back. This thing about having to use more expensive materials is stupid for Lake Worth. ‘We’re not doing Monticello in Mount Vernon.’ Wish I could say that there was something that stood out but it was just the same things we have heard for a long time here.
Besides the time it takes to process an application many expressed how difficult it is to talk to staff and get a dialogue going about alternatives to improve historic homes. There was also a lot of discussion about the ambiguity of the decision-making process and the lack of consistency. William Waters, the City’s Director of Community Sustainability, brought up the fact that we don’t have a coherent set of design guidelines for our historic districts and that is huge weakness.

Unfortunately, too many times people have bought a property in the City and later learn they’re in a historic district. I believe more efforts have to be taken to educate the public (and Realtors!) about the benefits of owning property within a historic district but flexibility is necessary to reach a win-win situation to preserve historic elements without heaping what can be extraordinarily high costs on the homeowner.

In short, a balanced approach.

Don’t misunderstand, there are also many positive stories about people’s experience with the City and its historic preservation program. There are permits that have a short turnaround time, reports of a two- to three-week time period, but these are the exception rather than the rule.

And lastly: I am optimistic this community discussion will bring about much needed changes. Too many residents are frustrated and yes, angry, with what’s happening. For years this situation has been one always close to the “tipping point” and now that has occurred. Ultimately I believe this important program will become a stronger one with community support with just a few talking about “opting out”.

Remember, what you read above
is from 2016.

From August 2nd of this year at the City Commission is this quote:

Mayor Pam Triolo asked City Manager Michael Bornstein, “You live in College Park. You don’t live in a historic district do you?”

Bornstein responded, “I intentionally did it that way.”

Very sad.

The comments that follow are from the blog post in June of 2016 as well: