Monday, December 08, 2014

Echo House: More City Staff SNAFUS -- Reconsideration Requested

-----Original Message-----
From: easlavin
To: nshaver ; rhorvath ; tneville ; cityfreeman ; NancySikesKline
Sent: Mon, Dec 8, 2014 10:59 pm
Subject: Re: 100 MLK Appeal Hearing (Echo House) -- Motion to Reconsider Based on Reversible Error

Dear Mayor Shaver, Vice Mayor Horvath and Commissioners:
1. Please reconsider and stay the effective date of your decision today on Echo House at your next meeting.
2. City staff neglected their legal duty to remind you to disclose ex parte contacts. Why? No Commissioner disclosed any, at all. Why?
3. City staff neglected their duty to share with you the Powerpoint presentation that I filed with the Clerk on December 2, 2014. I asked the City Manager about whether he had read it and the City Clerk's office promised it would be in your agenda materials. There was utterly no explanation for this prejudicial omission, which is indefensible and prejudiced my legal rights. Why?
4. No City official discussed the City's right of reverter. The City Attorney gave no comment or advice.
5. Rehabilitating Echo House is what Appellee promised City Commission (taking title subject to a right of reverter held by the City in the event the building is no longer used exclusively for charitable purposes). Appellee broke its legal commitment to the City.
6. Please request an outside, independent investigation of City staff's omissions of their duties of care and fidelity to law.
7. In the future, please disclose all legislative and quasi-judicial hearing ex parte contacts on suitable forms signed and filed before meetings (rather than verbally or not at all) and kindly adopt ethics rules and improve the level and quality of communications.
8. Finally, please place this motion to reconsider on the agenda for your next meeting.
Thank you and happy holidays.
Respectfully submitted,
Ed Slavin

Echo House decision upheld
Posted: December 8, 2014 - 11:27pm

Plans to demolish part of Echo House are moving forward after an appeal of a demolition permit was defeated Monday night.

The St. Augustine City Commission upheld a decision by the Historic Architectural Review Board to allow partial demolition of the building, which has been in Lincolnville for nearly a century.

The issue has dragged on for months as HARB continued the matter a couple of times before making a final decision in August. Then, local resident Ed Slavin appealed the decision, raising a comprehensive plan challenge.

The City Commission likely ended the battle Monday when commissioners voted unanimously that HARB members did not make an error when they approved plans to partially demolish the structure, which was built in the 1920s.

The Rev. Ron Rawls, pastor of St. Paul AME church, had initially applied for full demolition but came up with a compromise plan that he submitted later.

He wanted parking for his church, which is across the street from the Echo House on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue.

He said he plans to begin demolition as soon as possible.

Commissioner Nancy-Sikes Kline said the building is an important structure to the area.

“But it has been vacant for 40 years,” she said.

Echo House is on the corner of DeHaven Street and is boarded up. The building formerly housed a nursing home and community center.

Jenny Wolfe, the city’s historic preservation and special projects planner, said previously that the building’s history makes it valuable, and it is one of the only Mediterranean Revival-style buildings in the area.

When St. Paul AME gained control of the property, officials planned to renovate it and use it for the St. Paul School of Excellence, but the cost proved to be too high. The school is housed at the church complex.

Rawls applied for the demolition permit after losing some parking availability at a church across the road. He said the church would have to relocate without more parking.

Rawls said that having to renovate the structure would be an economic hardship. One estimate for renovating the building put the cost at about $1 million.

Wolfe recommended to HARB in August that the application should be denied, and that Rawls had not shown an economic hardship.

Slavin said Monday that Echo House is “a treasure and a true jewel” in the city.

Among other things, he argued that partial demolition of Echo House would create a gap in the visual continuity of the streetscape. He said HARB members did not do their job, ignored the staff opinion and did not have evidence to support their decision.

He said HARB members were swayed by “the clamor of the crowd,” supporters of Rawls who commented at the meeting. And he also said economic hardship was not proven.

“You can hear the anger on the tape,” he said of some of Rawls’ supporters.

Erica Moore, who represented St. Paul AME at the hearing, said the comments were part of heated discussion. But HARB members were not threatened.

She also said HARB members agreed that denying the permit would be an undue economic hardship, and that they were thorough in their decision making.

“There can be no question ... that (the) HARB board was diligent and sincere in their efforts,” she said.

After the decision, Slavin said the matter was still a victory because it opens the door wider for appeals to demolition permits of historic structures.

Sikes-Kline said Monday that supporting partial demolition was a difficult decision.

“They did come to a compromise,” she said. “They did it procedurally. They did it fair and square. So I will support the upholding of HARB’S decision.”

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