Historic Preservation Board debates 11th Street project, E. Railroad home

May 10, 2019
By Marcy Shortuse

Lee County Planning approached the Boca Grande Historic Preservation Board at their monthly meeting on Wednesday, May 8 with three projects on the agenda, but one stood out as a point of contention and spurred conversation that lasted well over an hour. Coincidentally, it was also one of the first home project proposals – if not the first – that the Board ever looked at in their existence.
A home at 1110 11th Street, which some purport was once called the “jewel of the island,” is a contributing structure owned by the Sherman family. The project was introduced by Planner Anthony Rodriguez, who listed the proposed changes to include the rehabilitation of accessory buildings on the property, including renovating the existing guest house and garage by changing the ground floor interior from a shop back to a garage, which it was originally. The proposal also called for replacing the “pseudo-Pueblo” flat roof with a sloped Spanish barrel tile roof and constructing a second-story addition for a kitchen, as well as constructing a ground floor two-car garage addition. The applicant also wishes to make changes to a home office by replacing windows and doors and adding an outdoor shower.
Rodriguez said the County recommended that the Board approve renovations to the office, conversion of the ground floor of the guest house into a garage and relocation of a wood storage shed. They did not, however, recommend approval of replacing the existing guest house flat roof with Spanish tile, expanding the upper story of the guest house or construction of the two-story addition.
As far as replacing the roof, Lee County Planning said they would suggest denial because the property would lose its original “Pueblo Revival” style flavor, and that the proposed type of roofing would by much heavier than the original. Apparently, the main residence went through the same process, and as it turns out the home needed major structural reinforcement to hold its weight.
Lee County staff recommended denial of the addition on the grounds that the addition was designed with a clay tile roof, which didn’t fit in with the original design. Also, they noted that the second-floor tower would be very tall and would contribute to the look of a Mediterranean Revival home. The construction of this addition would also require the removal of an existing shed, which dates back to 1926 and is an original feature of the property. The County said the shed could, in fact, be moved if the contractor could do it without damaging it.
At that point, Board member Bill Caldwell addressed the shed issue.
“If you couldn’t see the structural problems with this shed, I’m not sure you should be commenting on the other structural issues,” he said. “It has no back wall, just bumps against the existing gate. There’s very little vertical framing left, the rot is probably about 80 percent, and it is full of termites. It is absolutely absurd to think you would ask these people to move this shed. If you looked at it, you would say it is ridiculous to think you would try to save it.”
Caldwell also noted the conversation about a tile roof being heavier than the existing flat-top roof.
“You realize there are two roofs out there? There are two structures. They had the old one, and it leaked so bad some owner put more framing in,” he said.
Caldwell also questioned the County’s description of the home as “Pueblo style.” He went into detail explaining why it wasn’t a true Pueblo style, and that the original architect had basically created a home that was a “very, very poor rendition of a Pueblo style.”
The original architect was, in fact, F. Burrall Hoffman, an American whose designs include Villa Vizcaya in Miami, Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church and several homes on the island.
Board member Paul Eddy said the Board could, if they chose to, remove the “contributing” designation from the home because it no longer meets the standards of the Secretary of the Interior, due to its “near complete destruction” and addition of a pitched roof.
“It should possibly be redesignated as a noncontributing structure, and it should no longer be eligible for relief under FEMA and other coastal construction regulations,” he said.
Board member Dana Robinette addressed the Board and said she used to live in a Burrall Hoffman home. She said they are “wonderful, even to this day.”
“I don’t know if you are familiar with the story as to why this house has a tile roof now. They brought it before this committee, and when they realized the Board probably wouldn’t pass it, this man who owns the house was able to have a lawyer with him, and he on purpose waited 70 days. Once you wait 70 days and a Lee County committee doesn’t vote on it, you’re free to do whatever you want. That’s what happened.”
Robinette said the family that owns the house isn’t very involved in the community and is frequently flying in and out.
“I feel very uncomfortable with their request to change it again. The least we can do in the memory of Tim Seibert and Burrall Hoffman is to prevent this,” she said.
Board member Becky Paterson said this house was one of the first homes that her family business, Seale Family Realty, sold.
“It was this wonderful house, and I was vehemently opposed to changing it to a pitched roof … but it’s done,” she said. “There were errors made by people, and frankly I don’t know what good it does to save that look on that garage. Is it really important, or is it just something we want to stick our heels in and do? Maybe we should be a little more considerate of people’s different tastes and what they want to do. If that roof is too heavy and it falls down, too bad. We just need to be a little more practical.”
Paterson countered by saying, “I loved that house; it was my favorite house on the island. We can lament that it’s not that house any more. But it’s not that house anymore, and to punish the owners for something they had every legal right to do, I think that’s carrying things a little too far.”
Dick Yust, the general contractor, then addressed the Board and described the double-roof issue and how they intended to deal with the leaking the structure has.
“Iguanas had a whole city in there,” he said. “Everything was rotted, there were thousands of carcasses in there. Now the structure is up to code. We’re putting brand-new windows in, too. Right now the owners have no garage, no place to park their vehicles. They just want to expand it enough to park their car and golf cart.”
Yust agreed with Caldwell, and said the historic shed that had been discussed earlier was a “piece of rot.”
As discussion continued about the roof and the cost to fix it, Robinette spoke of the possibility of a membrane roof, and said they should think about trying that with the remaining roof structures. When the cost of such a plan was brought up, Robinette said, “If they can afford to buy that house, they can afford to fix it.
“What? What does it have to do with what they can afford?” Paterson said. “That shouldn’t have anything to do with this. They’ve already paid a pretty penny to try to fix this house …” at which point the audience erupted in applause.
In the end the Board approved the applicant’s proposals – all of them. The motion was passed, 4-3.
In other Board news, the ongoing project at 235 Banyan Street was also addressed. It has been continued for several months by the applicant as they have tried to adjust the plan to demolish the existing home and construct a new one to suit everyone involved.
When it came before the Board on Wednesday and some changes were announced, as well as the fact that the neighbors were now on board with their plan, the Board passed it unanimously and relatively quickly.
Also, some minor renovations to the townhouse at 530 5th Street W. #8 were discussed, including some re-routing of drainage pipes under a parking area and replacing some windows.
When Board member Paul Eddy mentioned that the drainage pipes would have to be buried pretty deep so as not to be cracked by golf carts parking over them, the contractor for the project assured him that golf carts parking over the drain pipes shouldn’t be a problem.
“I don’t know,” Eddy responded. “There are some six- and eight-passenger carts that are pretty heavy, especially when some of the well-heeled residents of the island are in them … not to mention some of the 300-pounders who come here.”
Discussion eventually ended and the Board approved the proposed changes to the townhouse.
In other business, Paterson brought up an email that had been sent to all Board members from Rodriguez regarding the April 10 meeting and a discussion surrounding future potential use for the single-family residence at 1050 E. Railroad Avenue. Many in the community believe that there is a plan to turn the home into an assisted living facility for multiple disabled individuals, and that permitting for interior work was issued but that exterior work was being done as well.
This home was brought up not only at the April meeting, but at Historic Preservation Board meetings in many past months.
The questions on most people’s minds, it seems, regard how an assisted living facility could be run on a barrier island with stringent “shelter in place” laws on the books; who would be living in the home; how many would be living in the home; and why it doesn’t seem as though proper building permits have been procured.
Rodriguez has explained in past meetings that the Americans with Disabilities Act trumps most local and state regulations, and that changes such as inside and outside ramps and room remodels don’t need to be voted on … they are simply allowed. He has further stated that denying a disabled property owner the right to make changes to their home to suit their needs is a path to a lawsuit.
Caldwell brought that up at this meeting as well, and said each individual Board member could be held liable in court if a suit was filed against them for discrimination.
Paterson told the Board that the person who the applicant had alleged would be living at the home after the remodeling was complete was actually living in a home purchased for him in Rotonda, with full-time nursing staff and no means to leave his bed. Paterson then questioned Rodriguez and asked him if he had, in fact, researched who would be staying there or if he was taking the applicant’s word for it.
“If it’s not for the homeowner, who’s it for?” Paterson asked. “How can we discriminate against a group of people who own a property if they’re not disabled? The owners have nothing to do with this; it’s a corporation that owns it. Apparently everyone decided we couldn’t review this or approve it because we might get sued over something that really doesn’t exist with this property.”
Paterson was referring to the fact that the registered owner of the property is a company called Seas the Day BERG LIL out of Sarasota.
Rodriguez said it didn’t really matter who was living there, that all of the permits for the project were in order and would stand, and that all other questions were not within the Board’s purview to ask.
Board Chair Guerrino Savio objected to the fact that the County seemed to be ignoring the significance of its decision.
“We need to try to find a way to defend this island,” Savio said. “Because that interpretation could be used this time and many other times, and that’s not something the residents of this island would like to see.”
The conversation will more than likely continue at the next meeting in June.