As a community forum, we value when caring members of our community share their insights. Recently, Russel Dion of Fort Lauderdale shared this article with us regarding the differences between Historical Designation and Historical Preservation and how that impacts local property owners without their consent or best interests in mind.
We asked Russel if we could publish his writings on our site for our audience to read. There is a lot of very valuable information below, especially if you own property in the City of Fort Lauderdale that is over (or almost at the age of) 50 years old.
An important message by Russel Dion of Fort Lauderdale:
If you think it does not affect you, think again.
If you own a property older than 50 years, you are vulnerable to Historic Designation. The City Commission has ordered its staff to propose amendments to the Historic Preservation Ordinance under the ULDR which are purported to clarify and streamline the process while in fact, they modify the process to be more restrictive and onerous to property owners.
My partner and I own a Mid Century Modern property on the Intracoastal in Fort Lauderdale, Manhattan Tower, designed by one of the premier architects of the 1950s. It has operated as an apartment/hotel from the 1960s. It was originally built as an executive retreat for the largest Cadillac dealer in New York City in 1955. Please understand that we are in favor of Historic Preservation. In fact, we saved our property 18 years ago from demolition and devoted our lives to its preservation and restoration. Unlike most of those who are intent on the designation of properties they deem historically important, we invested millions of dollars in the purchase, preservation, and maintenance of an historic property.
Most avid preservationists are doing no more than usurping the property rights of individual property owners for the benefit of the community at large with no recompense to the property owner. Further, they are intent on subjecting owners of properties they deem important to a whole new process of permitting which is in addition to the already burdensome process required by the rest of the community.
When the owner of a Designated Property wants to make changes to their property they are referred to a 134-page document, Historic Preservation Design Guidelines. After that, they are required to fill out forms and provide the City with an inordinate amount of research and detail as to their changes. They submit the forms and in many cases must provide additional information and re-submit them over and over.
In a recent case that came before the City Commission from a property owner living in Victoria Park and whose husband voluntarily had two properties Designated as Historic many years ago, the wife appeared requesting one of her properties be Un-designated due to financial hardship. It was going into foreclosure because she could not find a buyer who would purchase the property subject to the Designation.
First, she found there was no process for Un-designating her property. She was told to fill out all the relevant forms required by Designation and submit them to the City with a note that she wanted to reverse the Designation.
She did everything that was required of her and was scheduled for a hearing October 5. Because of a lack of a quorum her hearing was pushed back to the next meeting. She appeared before the City Commission desperate to get a decision and accommodation before she lost her property. She had received a small tax allowance of $500 per year as an incentive for designating her property which she offered to repay to the City.
Two commissioners were sympathetic and proposed a motion to remove the designation. Three Commissioners chose to vote against the motion. One commissioner stated there was a process that must be followed, seemingly not aware that the process was broken. Another suggested this desperate applicant should hire an attorney to have the foreclosure delayed. The fact that there was not even a form for reverse Designation in the event of hardship or that the City failed to produce a quorum to hear her case didn’t seem relevant to the dissenting commissioners.
At its core is taking private property rights from property owners with or without their consent or recompense and giving those rights to the state. The State decides whether your property has historic value based on its age, appearance and a number of subjective factors; any of which may trigger a designation. Once designated, a property is subject to a whole new level of regulation and expense which are borne by the property owner. There seem to be no educational requirements for those who implement the process, only a passion for the past.
If any resident likes the look of a property older than 50 years or has a grudge against someone who owns a property older than 50 years, they may become an “applicant” and file the necessary forms to start a process which may prevent that property owner from doing anything with their property during the “Intermediate Property Protection Period” of up to 180 days (6 months).
If during that time any one of a number of criteria is satisfied, the property may be “Designated” without the consent of the property owner and the owner will be prevented from making any further decisions about the appearance, improvement or use of their property without prior State approval. The property owner gets to pay for this extra level of bureaucracy with no help from the City while the community is the beneficiary. There are also concerns about Climate Change, catastrophic damage, and flooding.
The preservation of historic properties is worthwhile and is properly a goal of the City Commission but it is disappointing that instead of pursuing this goal with a plan for voluntary designation and incentives to property owners the City Commission has determined the first step should be to consolidate their police powers to Designate private properties.
The decision was made to spend scant City resources and staff hours on amending the current historic ordinances rather than forming a committee composed of avid preservationists and property owners who may be the subject of designation along with City staff to work out solutions to the problems of designation. From such a collaboration could come a fair and equitable consensus as to amendments to the current historic ordinances. Only then based on recommendations from this joint committee should amendments be proposed.
To amend those ordinances without doing so is heavy-handed governance from the top down resulting in the creation of unnecessary animosities and resentment from property owners who have invested their time (for some a lifetime) and life savings in purchasing a property only to find that they lose the freedom to make their own decisions regarding the property. There is a concern that the City is usurping too much power in their efforts to amend the Historic Preservation Ordinance.