Untrustworthy City: “Trust Us” on Historic District Designation in St. Petersburg. (Remember the Lens, Pier Park, Greenlight Pinellas, Waterfront stadium…..?)

What if you were told to spend $350, hire a lawyer, inform your neighbors, go to a city bureaucrat and a political committee to get new shrubbery, new shingles on your roof? Welcome to your new "historic district".

What if you were told to spend $350, hire a lawyer, inform your neighbors, go to a city bureaucrat and a political committee to get new shrubbery or new shingles on your roof? Welcome to your new “historic district”.

What if a small minority of people in your neighborhood could stop you from painting your house? Sign the petition to protect your property from “Historic District” designation by a tiny group of neighbors.

Come to City Council August 20th, 175 5th St. N to say “no” to the new ordinance. Email City council at Council@stpete.org and Mayor@StPete.Org. Tell them “Do NOT change the current Historic District process. ALL property owners should vote!

Historic Preservationists are working on their final plan to impose their beliefs on unsuspecting neighbors. The Preservationists seek to make it much easier for a minority of people to create a “historic district” that will make home values lower and costs of maintenance higher. If they are successful, a minority of people in your neighborhood – 47 out of 100 – could cause your neighborhood to be declared a “Historic District” (47 if only 70 vote; or 7 if only 10 vote!). That would mean that a neighbor that wanted to re-do their roof would have to go through months of bureaucratic approval and political committee meetings to have the privilege to spend more than necessary on the project. The preservationists are trying to support their position by claiming that it is not really a tiny minority imposing their will– it will be the city government acting as their agents. It is comical to hear a small group of political activists tell citizens all will be ok if they place their trust in St. Petersburg politicians that brought everyone the Lens, Pier Park, Greenlight Pinellas, a Waterfront stadium, Albert Whitted demolition and more. In each case, average citizens have had to rise up in a massive, expensive and time-wasting political efforts to stop these “grand visions”.

As a reminder, the historic preservationists seek to change the way that a neighborhood is declared a “Historic District”. Historic district neighborhoods are subject to draconian and costly bureaucracies to merely maintain, repair or upgrade their homes. If an old house has aged past its useful life, the city must approve its demolition and likely will only allow a more costly replacement that meets the aesthetic approval of a political committee: the Community Planning and Preservation Commission. Right now Historic District designation requires a 2/3 vote of every single property owner. The original proposal called for a 50%+1 (a majority) of returned mail-in ballots to vote “yes” to empower the city to create a Historic District. Due to citizen activism and the efforts of the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce and the Pinellas Realtors, the process has been made a little more difficult, but is still substantially weaker than current protections (*see paragrapgh 2(b) of latest proposed ordinance on page 155 here). The latest proposal requires 2/3 of RETURNED ballots to support a Historic Designation. That is after a petition of 30% of the neighborhood could initiate the process. So, once the ballots hit the mail boxes, only those people mailing in the ballots will be counted. The Current process requires 2/3 of EVERY PROPERTY OWNER in the district. Considering low voter turnouts in elections, there is a good chance that a busy, working property owner may not return their ballot. This means that those opposed to the Historic Designation will have to launch costly and time-wasting political campaigns to mobilize the vote. The neighborhood will then face a divisive political campaign that will pit neighbor against neighbor. In the ensuing political battle, some ballots could “disappear” from the mailboxes of opponents as political dirty tricks are used to remove them. If you don’t think it can happen, merely look at the history of political campaigns in American and local history.

The response of historic preservation supporters like Dr. Bill Heller and has been to state that the balloting process would then only grant the city government the power to declare the historic designation. It is true that the City Council would have the final vote, after a recommendations are made by the Community Planning and Preservation Commission which the City would likely rubberstamp. That should not create comfort for property owners. Our city government and the political commissions that advise them have a substantial and lengthy history of ignoring the will of St. Petersburg citizens and property owners. For instance, despite protests of citizens in 2006 and 2007, they continued to raise property taxes – leading to home foreclosures. City committees and the City Council demanded the “Lens”, requiring citizens to mobilize against it as a replacement for the Pier. They have now approved “Pier Park” despite substantial citizen objections. They pushed a waterfront stadium and the Greenlight Pinellas rail debacle, requiring massive, costly and time-wasting citizen activism to stop it. The members of the City Council have supported “Historic Preservation” claiming that it will increase property values despite substantial evidence to the contrary and common sense itself. The game is rigged in favor of the so-called historic preservationists who have a long history of political support and campaign contributions to the politicians in power at City Hall. The politicians will do what they always do – pander to and support the political activists that keep them in power. That means they will approve any historic district application that comes their way, even if only 7, 20 or 37 neighbors out of a 100 property owners voted yes.

This week the Sunbeam Times will offer further analysis on other reasons why historic district designation is dangerous for your property and neighborhood. In the meantime Citizens should ask themselves: can you really trust a group that wants to use a rigged political process of minority control to empower an untrustworthy St. Pete City government to remove your property rights? If you oppose the historic preservationists rigged game, then you need to let the city government know. Mail Council@stpete.org or Mayor@stpete.org to voice your concerns. Also, show up at the City Council meeting Thursday, August 20th at 6 pm to make your voice heard (175 5th st. N). Parking is just north of City Hall on the north side of City Hall between 4th and 5th St. N.


*From Proposed ordinance, paragraph 2 b, page 155 of Thursday’s agenda: “…Only city issued ballots that have a postmark within 60 days of the date of mailing, or have been physically received by the POD within 60 days the date of mailing and have been date stamped by the City, shall be counted.”