Wednesday, August 2, 2017

What was said at the Lake Worth City Commission meeting last night that caused the greatest reaction.

[UPDATE: Below is a link to this meeting on YouTube.]

Mayor Pam Triolo said to 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.”

The historic preservation program here in the City of Lake Worth was given its last chance last year. Last night it received a loud message of “no confidence”. Despite the ordinance passing there were many misgivings and concerns from the dais.

This discussion lasted well over an hour. To watch this item at the Commission go to the 1 hour mark in the video using this link. From the 1:40 mark to 2:10 is the Commission discussion. There is still a lot of frustration, particularly about guidelines for homeowners looking to have improvements done to a historic structure.

Looking back, all this reached a “tipping point” at the South Palm Park neighborhood in early 2016 when homeowners wanted to “opt out” of that historic district and some called for a petition drive to put the issue on the ballot. Then several neighborhood meetings were scheduled for public input:

These meetings are being held in response to concerns over administration of the program and how to improve the resident/property owner experience within a historic district.

From June 2016:

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.

This program, certainly in its present form, will most certainly come to an end. Smaller districts possibly narrowly focused on contributing structures and much less so on non-contributing. 

Here is a blog post from January 2016.

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.