How many requests are too many requests?

October 15, 2021
By Susan Hanafee

BGHPB discusses that, and more

The question of how many times a homeowner can request changes to a historic property in a given period was front and center at Wednesday’s meeting of the Boca Grande Historic Preservation Board.

The answer boils down to whatever the Board is willing to tolerate, according to Lee County Principal Planner Earl Hahn.

“There are no limits,” he told the Board members, all six of whom were in attendance following a summer in which the lack of a quorum resulted in several cancelled meetings.

The same issue surfaced at the August meeting when then Board Member Guerrino Savio expressed concern about a property on 9th Street West. In a letter to the Board, he claimed that the homeowners’ third request for changes in less than a year would result in “nothing much left of the original, historical residence.”

Savio said he didn’t know if the 9th Street alterations would have been approved by the Board if presented in its entirety last October.

“Certainly, by selectively presenting, in three different occasions, the three different components of the project, the applicant may have softened the perceived impact of all proposed alterations,” he wrote.

Savio was not present at the August meeting at which the board approved the homeowners’ request by a vote of 3-1, citing concerns about structural integrity of the residence absent the revisions. Paul Eddy voted against the project, pointing to the number of changes and the addition of a fireplace, which was not a historic feature.

Following the August meeting, Savio informed fellow Board members that he was resigning after serving six years on the Historic Preservation Board.

“…during the last year I have become concerned that the focus of the Board no longer strives to protect the historic resources of Boca Grande,” he wrote in an email dated September 9.

“After recent approvals by the Board of three separate applications for the same contributing property proposing radical alterations, demolitions and additions, it is my opinion that the Board will be left with no argument to object to future applications, which will substantially change the character of Boca Grande historic homes.”

Savio’s resignation was not mentioned at Wednesday’s meeting but a fourth application for changes by another homeowner – this one at 1841 18th Street West – caused the issue of multiple requests to re-surface.

Wednesday’s petition by the homeowner was to expand a 576-square-foot guest house, to the right and in front of the main residence, by enlarging the closet and laundry areas and replacing the shingle roof with metal.

The owners and their representatives have appeared before the Board on three previous occasions, starting in June 2020 when they sought permission to add a sauna. This February, they requested approval to renovate the residence, the guest house, pool and perimeter walls. In May, they asked to make alterations to perimeter walls and gates.

The residence is a three-bedroom, 3½ bath Florida Ranch style house built in 1968.

Board Member Dennis Maloomian said he had no problem with the application or the number of times the applicant has sought to make changes. “But is there any policy or restrictions on the number of times an applicant can come before this Board in a given period of time?” he asked.

“I’m not suggesting for a second about this applicant, but [multiple applications] could be a strategy to nibble away at what otherwise might be an overwhelming project,” he added.

Board Chairman Jerry Edgerton said his experience has been that as a project moves along, homeowners often discover issues that don’t meet current building codes. “That’s what happened at the last meeting,” he said. “They discovered that the structure would not support hurricane windows. It’s an evolutionary process.”

In addition to saying there are no limits to requests, Hahn pointed out that if the Board feels a project has been submitted too many times and that the historic character of the house has been changed, “you can turn it down.”

Following the discussion, the Board unanimously approved the changes to the 18th Street guest house.

Another Boca Grande property, this one a quaint historic cottage nestled among thick foliage at 371 Lee Avenue, also faces a major renovation after 11 proposed changes were unanimously approved by the Board.

The two-bedroom home with one bathroom is believed to have been built in 1910.

The plan calls for a new entry and foyer, a reconfiguring of the front parlor, expanding the living area to the south and replacing the elevated brick paver open entry with a new wood entry deck.

In addition, the homeowner requested approval to replace all aluminum awning windows with single-hung aluminum impact windows, the 10-inch fiberglass siding with 6-inch smooth hardi-siding and to expand the pool deck. The plan also calls for replacing the six-foot-tall wood fence along the north of the property line.

Lee County support staff for the Board noted that the property has undergone numerous alterations over the years, making “it unclear how much of the historic character of the property remains and can be preserved.” Staff said that the proposed changes “will improve the appearance of the façade and the character of the property.”

Concerns about the safety of the children, prompted the request for improvements to the Boca Grande Preschool on the campus of Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Church on Park Avenue.

The upgrades consist of replacing the former carport with an air-conditioned storage area and the installation of six-foot-tall fencing around the playground.

“The news across the country [about school shootings] was making us nervous, so we installed security cameras and then asked the sheriff’s department what else we could do to protect the children,” said Angela Steffan, speaking on behalf of the school. “This is what he suggested.”

Eddy said it is important for the Board to know of these issues.

Support for the project was unanimous.