Historic Districts St. Petersburg: True and False (Shingles and Painting and Shrubs, Oh My!)

Anti-Property Rights Activists (preservationists) are trying to saythat getting renovations to your house approved in an historic district is "easy".  It may hang on questions like these: are your shrubs "historic"?

Anti-Property Rights Activists (preservationists) are trying to say that getting renovations to your house approved in an historic district is “easy”. It may hang on questions like these: are your shrubs, paint color, shingles, lighting, and much more “historic” enough?  Does it effect the “historic integrity” of the entire “historic district” neighborhood. Do your politically active neighbors think so? Not easy.

The Historic District supporters are on the defensive and claiming that clear truths about the historic district are “misinformation”. So, it appears time to ensure that the facts are clearly understood. Two recent pieces by Bill Heller published in the Tampa Bay Times and Janelle Irwin on Saintpetersblog will be dissected – uh, evaluated. Facts offered will be based on St. Petersburg city ordinances and the city’s Certificate of Appropriateness application that is reviewed for work to be done on houses in Historic Districts. Now onto SHRUBBERY, PAINTING AND SHINGLES!

But first (gotcha), the COA (certificate of appropriateness) application states quite clearly (emphasis added):

Purpose: The Historic Preservation Ordinance, City Code Section 16.30.070, requires issuance of a Certificate of Appropriateness (COA) prior to any exterior alteration to a locally designated landmark or property within a locally designated historic district. Exterior alterations include, but are not limited to, the following work: changes to walls, roof, or windows; painting unpainted masonry; additions; relocation, and demolition. Building new structures and demolition requests within a historic district, as well as any digging or replacement of plantings on a designated archaeological site also require a COA. The intent of the COA is to insure that the integrity and character of the landmark or historic district is maintained.”

Ordinance language is instructive and shown below to avoid boring the reader out of their skull*. But is needs to be pointed out that there is broad discretion for the political “Community Planning and Preservation Commission” including to ensuring “historic integrity of the district” based on alterations to “non-contributing structures”


What if a small minority of people in your neighborhood could stop you from replacing your windows? 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!


Shrubbery – is your shrubbery “historic”

 Janelle Irwin indicated that changes to shrubbery in an historic district will be unaffected since it is“not included in that fee schedule”. She is referring to the COA fee schedule shown at Sunbeam Times of fees for applying for a COA. That fee schedule lists broad activities like “alterations”. Putting new shrubbery on your historic property may, in fact, not require a review. But the trick is to make sure that no one complains that your shrubbery was in fact “historic”. According to the COA application, if the vegetation is considered historic by someone it requires an initial staff review ($50). If that staffer decides on their own it is historic, then it requires a full CPC committee review ($300 fee for alteration). Nosy neighbor syndrome can cause problems here – especially neighbors who “just never really liked you”. If the nosy neighbor decide to cause you trouble, they can turn you in for removing shrubbery they consider “historic”. Then all bets are off. You will be fined and forced to spend whatever it takes to get that historic shrubbery re-planted.

paitingPainting your house

Ms. Irwin then goes on to say that painting a house won’t be affected. She offers “Nor is painting your home…(included in that fee schedule)”. Well, it only takes a little bit of reading to see that the COA application states: “Painting an originally unpainted surface” requires a full commission review ($300 for “alteration”) after the requisite $50 initial staff review. Dr. Heller thus errs here as well when he states: “reality is that historic districts don’t legislate color”. The actual reality is that, indeed, the CPC does exactly that: legislate color. If you remove stone covering or brick (assuming the CPC would approve THAT), and try to paint the surface, the CPC decides the color they approve. If the CPC SOMEHOW allows you to paint over old bricks, again they decide the color.

A nightmare for renovation of your home’s exterior

Dr. Heller also states “…the process for approving renovations is not inordinately difficult, and ordinary repair is exempt from review.” Well, perhaps Dr. Heller and the other “preservationists” should talk to residents of Grenada Terrace who want out of the Historic district Designation. A conversation with John Stearman from that neighborhood would be very instructive. He was told “no” by the CPC to putting new windows in his home in 2008. It took five years before the city council said the windows were okay. Five years. Of Bureaucratic Nightmares. Politicians had to intervene. Again, Dr. Heller asserts that approving renovations is not inordinately difficult.

Historic District Nightmare Extends to Many Repairs

Doors, driveways, water feathers, “historic vegetation”, lighting, sidewalks, canvas awnings, decks, patios, pools, balconies, visible air conditioners, carports, roofs (yes, shingles too!), shutters, fences, windows, lighting, sheds. Even cleaning the surface of your home’s exterior! ALL of these things are subject to bureaucratic review, application fees, political commissions, lawyers, nosy neighbors and more. Why in the world would any person want to make it easier for a government bureaucracy to impose its will on their house? Why would anyone want to decrease the voting threshold to allow this to occur?

Show up and tell the City council, do not make it easier to create an historic district designation. Better yet, tell them to make it even harder!


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!


*Ordinance excerpts

“No person may undertake any of the following actions affecting a designated landmark, a designated landmark site or a property in a designated thematic grouping or in a designated historic district without first obtaining a certificate of appropriateness:



The applicant shall complete an application form provided by the City which includes the following information:

1.Drawings of the proposed work;

2. Photographs of the existing building or structure and adjacent properties;

3. A complete written description of the proposed work which shall include information about the building materials to be used;


 “Certificates of appropriateness for noncontributing structures in a historic district shall be reviewed to determine whether the proposed work would negatively impact a contributing structure or the historic integrity of the district. Approval of a certificate shall include any conditions necessary to mitigate or eliminate the negative impact.