Saturday, July 11, 2015

Lee Geanuleas Guest column: Dow Museum plans don't belong in a historic St. Augustine neighborhood

Guest column: Dow Museum plans don't belong in a historic St. Augustine neighborhood
Posted: July 11, 2015 - 11:29pmBy LEE GEANULEAS
St. Augustine
What St. Augustine becomes is determined every day in seemingly small decisions that, over time, add up to create our future. This column addresses once such decision.

Old Island Hotels Inc. (OIH) wants to create a hotel, bar and events venue at the former Dow Museum property in the HP-1 district. Per city code, “HP-1 is intended to provide primarily residential uses that encourage preservation and restoration of historic structures.”

Other uses such as churches, schools or museums are allowed “by exception” in HP-1 (the St. Francis Inn, operating since 1845, is grandfathered). A hotel, bar and special events business is not allowed. OIH must circumvent zoning by having a planned unit development (PUD) approved.

Not surprisingly, many St. Augustinians are not in favor of this change. At the May 5 PZB hearing on the PUD 44 city response forms were opposed, and only two were in favor.

This overwhelming opposition is reflected in the numerous home-made “No Dow PUD” signs spreading around town.

Some support the PUD because it will renovate and improve a property which had been neglected by its previous owner, and they are correct. They also claim those opposed are “anti-progress.” On this they are wrong.

If I may speak on behalf of those opposed to rezoning, we are actually in favor of progress: thoughtful, well-reasoned progress. We are in favor of making our city better, while protecting what remains of St. Augustine’s residential neighborhoods, because our heritage is the essence of our city. If the City Commission approves the PUD, another piece of residential St. Augustine is lost forever.

We are in favor of truly innovative development at the Dow property such as creating single family homes, rental apartments, condominiums or even a well-marketed colonial, territorial and Flagler-era Florida life museum.

Each of these options is allowed under current HP-1 zoning.

We are in favor of hotels being located in areas zoned for hotels and keeping property zoned residential, as residential. We are in favor of real historic preservation in this special city, not the faux “preservation” practiced by the OIH at the former M&M Market and the Dow.

We are in favor of safe and passable streets. We are in favor of quiet evenings in our residential neighborhoods. We are in favor of a healthy tourism industry that respects our heritage. We are in favor of developers who respect our residents (renters as well as owners) and don’t treat concerned citizens as annoying impediments. We are in favor of city leaders who seek an intelligent balance between business, academic and residential needs.

We are not in favor of a corporation that plans to use Lincolnville as the valet parking lot for its affluent boutique hotel guests in HP-1. We are not in favor of large outdoor events at the former Dow property with no provision for party attendee parking. We are not in favor of commercial deliveries on narrow streets in our neighborhoods. We are not in favor of our city ignoring its own zoning ordinances.

In a recent The Record article the PUD developer is quoted, “When this is done, if it is done, the way I want to do it, it’s going to be a smash,” Corneal said. “It’s going to be a major attraction.” That’s exactly our point: We don’t want a “major attraction” in a residential neighborhood. Who would?

Your neighbors opposed to the “Dow PUD” are in favor of intelligent development that respects existing city ordinances and creates a future that includes vibrant residential neighborhoods coexisting with a healthy heritage tourism industry. Is that not a future we all can embrace?

Lee Geanuleas, U.S.N. (Retired), right greets former Vice Admiral Joe Sestak and Congressman (now a candidate for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania) at a meeting of the U.S. Naval Academy Alumni Association in D.C.

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