Thursday, July 09, 2015


When a City Board voted to allow demolition of Echo House, St. Paul A.M.E. Church waited for the appeal deadline to expire. An appeal was filed. Knowing that, and being advised by the City's estimable fired former Planning and Building Director MARK ALAN KNIGHT, speculator DAVID BARTON CORNEAL and his henchman, MICHAEL A. CONROY, destroyed Carpenter's House on April 20, 2015, the same day the permit was signed. Now the City of St. Augustine is looking at writing the Code of Ordinances to say what everyone (including St. Paul A.M.E.) had understood: you can't obtain a demolition permit and destroy an historic structure without waiting for the appeal deadline to expire. Incredibly, three (3) local contractors are complaining. Two of them are CORNEAL associates -- JON BENOIT has done work for CORNEAL, and VALDES has repeatedly lobbied on behalf of CORNEAL, writing a series of mash notes in support of his project. Neither of these relationships was disclosed by the Record.
This is our Nation's Oldest City. Let these whiny contractors build elsewhere if they feel entitled to boss, bully, gull, diddle and make indecent demands. This is our town and our government.

New proposal would add waiting period to demolition permits in St. Augustine
Posted: July 8, 2015 - 7:58pm

CONTRIBUTED Crews working on the Cordova Inn, the former DOW Museum of Historic Homes, have taken down the Carpenter House after getting permission from St. Augustine's Historic Architectural Review Board.

When property owner David Corneal recently won approval to demolish the listing “carpenter’s house” at the site of the former Dow Museum, his construction crew picked up the permit the next day and took down the building.
It was an action that was perfectly legal under city rules.
However, an ultimately unsuccessful appeal of the demolition order was later filed. If it had proven successful, nothing would have physically changed because the building was already gone — although the owner would have been subject to a fine.
Because of situations like that one — not exactly rare in St. Augustine — City Attorney Isabelle Lopez has put together a draft of a new policy that would demand a 30-day “cooling off” period after a demolition order is issued. The draft was presented to the city’s Planning and Zoning Board at Tuesday’s meeting, and the board voted to send the document to the City Commission for a vote on its approval.
During the meeting, Lopez said the proposed policy change would allow for a true period for appeal of a decision by the Historic Architectural Review Board before anything can be dismantled.
All buildings in the city that are 50 years or older require a permit from HARB before demolition can take place.
“This was to address the scenario of someone obtaining the HARB demolition permit and once the order is written and signed … then, literally, the next day I can go and demolish the structure. I don’t have to wait the 30 days,” Lopez said during Tuesday’s meeting.
Included in the proposal are two possible waivers. Owner-occupants can go right to the city manager for immediate demolition approval if there is a safety concern. Or, property owners can appeal to the City Commission at the next available meeting time.
“The reality is you can’t put Humpty Dumpty back together again,” Lopez said. “That was the concern we were attempting to address while being sensitive to the fact that some folks desperately need to take down maybe a portion of their building or even all their building if it’s a humanitarian (concern).”
Some local builders have concerns about changing a policy that slows the progress of a project. They say waiting through the HARB process can be grueling enough, so adding another month of delay can be an added frustration.
“My attitude is real simple: Keep it the way it is,” said John Valdes, a former HARB and PZB member who has done extensive restoration work in the city. “If you approve something, you approve it.”
Mike Davis, president of AD Davis Construction, which has been doing work in the city since 1954, said further bureaucratic delays are bad for business.
“Any time you delay a project, it adds to the cost,” he said.
Jon Benoit, owner of BEHST Builders of St. Augustine, agreed that slowing down the approval process might make people think twice about investing in city property.
“It just makes doing business in the city more unpredictable,” he said. “I’m OK with a lot of rules and processes, but I think you do have to make it fairly predictable.”
All three builders said that making the demolition process too arduous will simply leave older, broken-down structures to wallow in disrepair.
Benoit said the simple act of waiting 30 days to demolish a building won’t hurt most of his projects. But if the waiting period leads to more appeals, then it will be that much harder to get work done.
“I’m not going to take my customer down a path where we might be three or four months (into the approval process) and not have any idea of the (outcome),” he said. “The bigger issue to me is you’re adding a whole new variable.”
The proposal will head to the City Commission for an official vote. It is not on the agenda for Monday’s meeting, and agendas for future meetings have not been finalized.

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