Is the fate of the NHR proposal sealed? Appeal filed, but state announces that more than half of residents in the district have objected to the nomination

May 9, 2021
By Marcy Shortuse

BY MARCY SHORTUSE – Word from Tallahassee this week is that the controversial National Register of Historic Places nomination that was proposed by Sarasota resident Mikki Hartig is no longer viable, as the state’s Bureau of Historic Preservation/Division of Historical Resources received more than enough letters of objection to stifle the motion.

Survey and Registration Supervisor Ruben Acosta said they tallied 80 property owner objections that were dropped off at their office recently (as of May 3). Acosta said that was more than half of the 128 property owners who were notified of the district listing and who were given opportunity to object. 

“Therefore, we cannot seek to list the Boca Grande Residential Historic District in the National Register,” he said. 

However, on May 6 the National Register Review Board had an online meeting in which he announced an appeal had been filed on May 4. That means the state expects to put the appeal on the August 5 agenda. 

This gets confusing, because in an earlier statement Acosta said districts cannot be listed until property owners who submitted notarized letters withdraw their objection to the listing. Objections remain on file until formally withdrawn by the current or future property owner. 

The property owners who submitted their objections aren’t the only ones who hold the nomination in low regard. On April 9 Lee County Attorney Richard Wesch submitted a letter to Secretary of State Laurel M. Lee with his “great concern” regarding the nomination. He wrote, “My hope is that you may be able to clarify what appears to be a startling lack of due process afforded to certified local governments and affected property owners in the state’s National Register of Historic Places nomination proceedings.”

Wesch continued, describing Hartig’s lack of property ownership within the district, as well as the fact she has stated repeatedly that she does not represent any property owner who lives there. Wesch also said that, according to Hartig’s own admission, she had spent two years preparing the nomination, but no mention of it was made to Lee County until a letter was received from Acosta on October 19, 2020.

News that an additional, federally-listed, district was being proposed came as a shock to the residents of Boca Grande, which is a small island community where many residents place a high value on privacy, as well as to the Board of County Commissioners of Lee County,” Wesch wrote. “The fact that the nomination sponsor does not live or own property on the island or in Lee County, and did not consult affected property owners in researching or preparing the nomination, has created speculation as to the motivations behind this application. Additionally, the nomination was filed at a time of year when many of Boca Grande’s seasonal residents are away from the island, and many who were on the island were not able to attend public meetings due to concerns about COVID-19, which meant fewer property owners would be in a position to object to the nomination.”

Wesch said the originally-filed nomination also lacked transparency by including as a contributing resource a median that is owned and maintained by Lee County, the Gilchrist median. The median, which Wesch said the sponsor alleged to have historical significance due to its landscaping design, was not listed by name, but rather identified generically as “Public Space/PIaza.” It was not until County staff made further inquiry that this was discovered. He wrote that the plantings within the median have been replaced over time, without regard to any historical landscaping design and cannot in any way be considered historical. 

Citing other deficiencies in the nomination, Wesch concluded his letter by saying, “I have reviewed the Florida Certified Local Government Guidelines, as well as 36 CFR Part 60, and I am unable to discern how this regulatory scheme serves the interests of anyone other than the nomination sponsor. In my legal experience, appeals require certain elements, such as identification of the final order being appealed, articulation of the grounds for the appeal, a requirement that opposing parties receive notice of the appeal, and an opportunity for opposing parties to present argument. None of those things seem to be provided for in this case. This runs contrary to even a basic understanding of due process under the law. If the certified local government and affected property owners are not considered parties to this appeal, are not provided notice, and are not allowed to participate in the hearing, how can their rights be protected?”

We will keep you posted on any updates regarding the nomination.

Letter written by Lee County Attorney Richard Wesch to Secretary of State Laurel Lee below.

County Attorney April 9 letter to Secretary of State
Appeal filed May 3, 2021 by Mikki Hartig below. (may take a minute to load)
final appeal, enclosures, Boca Grande Residential Historic District