Thursday, July 09, 2015

Editorial: Demolition delay worth the price (St. Augustine Record)

Editorial: Demolition delay worth the price
Posted: July 9, 2015 - 7:23pm

The St. Augustine City Commission may soon take a look at a new ordinance that would put in place a 30-day cooling-off period between the issuance of a demolition permit within the historic districts, and the actual knock-down.
City attorney Isabelle Lopez is working up the draft. The impetus was the demo of the Carpenter House, a part of the eclectic gathering of homes and structures in what was known as the Dow Property, and soon to be Cordova Inn.
The timeline is instructive. Developer David Corneal filed for the demolition permit Feb. 20, 2014. The request then went to the Historic Architectural Review Board for review on March 19, at which time HARB members wanted more time to deliberate. It was continued. The permit came up again at the next meeting of the board April 16. HARB voted to allow the demolition. The city surveyed the site and issued the permit April 20. The building was gone April 21 — all perfectly legal, and necessary in terms of safety, according to HARB.
After the building was a memory, resident Ed Slavin filed an appeal with the city which, practically speaking, was silly but perhaps symbolic. The city later found that the appeal had no legal basis — and it was over. Had the city found Slavin’s challenge legally solid, the appeal would have gone to the city commission. But why? It could not “un-demolish” the building. But it is the next step in the appeal process. The next would be an appeal of a city vote in court — a place where the city currently finds itself in dispute with a different owner seeking demolition of a property.
We think the 30-day buffer is a good idea. Remember that, in the case of the Carpenter House, demolition began three days after the permit was issued and was gone on the fourth.
Local builders express concern. It’s another step in a process that, for many, is already complicated and potentially drawn-out. We certainly see their point. Permitting is a tough enough process outside the historic districts, and infinitely more so within. Clients want action, we understand. But no builder can set a strict time line in the HP districts. An appeal to the city could add months to a project.
Lopez had it right when she said “The reality is that you can’t put Humpty Dumpty back together again.” You can’t undo a demolition.
And the truth is (and David Corneal, himself, might be the first to agree) that if you are attempting to do historic restoration or preservation in a hurry, you have no business entering into the business. It’s painstaking, methodical, maddening at times. But it is worth it. And the fact that we live in a city that understands the importance of its historic structures and goes to great lengths to protect their integrity and preserve their souls is a good thing. It is an altogether necessary one, to boot.

Comments (1)
not2extreme 07/10/15 - 11:20 am 20Got Math?
"The city surveyed the site and issued the permit April 20. The building was gone April 21" then "demolition began three days after the permit was issued and was gone on the fourth." That used to be one day, not four. But, then again, I have the transcripts to prove I'm a failure at math.
The entire permitting process needs to be overhauled. Currently the City has a "easier to get forgiveness than permission" policy that promotes and encourages unpermitted behavior with the full knowledge that a variance can be later obtained, especially if you know or pay off some body. The rest of us have to make do obeying the law.


Anonymous said...

"We live in a city that understands the importance of its historic structures and goes to great lengths to protect..." Just ask Len Weeks about that. I didn't see the Record protesting his unlicensed demolition. Yes a demo permit was later issued, after he had effectively destroyed the building at Spanish and Hypolita. But first, the Record says a demo permit was issued on April 20, and the building was gone on the 21st. Then they say there was 4 days between permitting and demolition. Can they not add, can they not read a calendar, or is that confusing the issue of simple editorial incompetence?

Ed Slavin said...

Weeks was fined only $3600 by the code enforcement board, after which City Attorney ISABELLE WEEKS hugged WEEKS, I objected to the appearance of impropriety, PZB member JERRY DIXON, WEEKS' architect, barked at me to get a life, and WEEKS' urchins said my clothes were wrinkled. Our other-directed City Manager JOHN REGAN cried and said Weeks was his "mentor on historic preservation" when WEEKS resigned as HARB Chair.

On the math side, the HARB 2-1 vote was on April 16; paperwork was issued on April 20, and building was torn down later that day and done by April 21.

Anonymous said...

I understand the math computations. I was pointing out the editorial clarity the Record thinks we must accept. A permit is not a permit until the paper is in hand.