Lee County commissioners vote to give National Register nomination a 60-day extension

December 4, 2020
By Olivia Cameron

BY MARCY SHORTUSE- When item five came up at the Lee County commissioners meeting on December 1, it was clear that they all had more questions than answers. That is why discussions turned into a motion to ask for a 60-day extension from the state on the Boca Grande residential historic district’s proposed nomination to the National Register of Historic Places.
Commissioners unanimously voted that the nomination should be remanded back to the Boca Grande Historic Preservation Board’s custody, in order to remove the Gilchrist Avenue element from the equation. They asked that another public hearing be held in front of the local board prior to it being heard in commission chambers again. Commissioners also said if the process could not be completed within 60 days, like the BGHPB the action they would take would be denial.
 This decision came on the heels of the BGHPB voting 4-2 in November to deny the nomination, based on the grounds that there was a lack of transparency in the nomination process, potential historical inaccuracies in the nomination, and a lack of allowance of public participation. Gilchrist Avenue (including the median, landscaping, and the two roads), was also a major sticking point.
County Commission Chairman Kevin Ruane said he lacked clarity in the matter, and said he did see some inconsistencies. While he had received a considerable amount of correspondence asking him to side with the BGHPB, he said it had been brought to his attention the afternoon before the meeting that there could also be “unintended consequences” by making a rapid decision. 
“The other opportunity is if we were to go along with staff’s recommendation and approve this, it won’t prevent any type of adjustment, modification or even another application,” he said. “The issue with Gilchrist, in talking with people for and against this, seems to be one of the issues that have brought us, as the county, into this. Emails I received talked about transparency issues, the fact that property owners weren’t here, or were unable to attend Skype or Zoom meetings.”  
Ruane said, based on what he had heard from many island residents, they realized they already had protection from the FEMA “50 percent” regulations, as well as other coverages included by already being located within an historic district, and they did not feel they needed the additional codification this national nomination would give them.
Public comment included speakers Mary O’Bannon (who represented The Gasparila Inn & Club and two island churches), Attorney Bruce Strayhorn, Gloria Sajgo from Planaday, LLC. (Sajgo is also the former principal planner for Lee County), Janet Murphy (an architectural historian and consultant for the town of Palm Beach), and Jerry Edgerton, chairman of the BGHPB. They all spoke against the nomination, as they all did at the local board meeting in November, with the exception of Strayhorn.
Edgerton told commissioners that the nomination had appeared in front of the BGHPB “out of the blue” in October, but thanks to Lee County staff keeping them informed they were able to put the item on the November agenda and discuss it in the forum of a public hearing.
“As a result of the public hearing, we determined that the (nomination) process was flawed, and somewhat arbitrary,” he said. “It did not consider the impact on the affected citizens who were not represented, there was historical disagreement as to the historic significance of the Gilchrist median, there was no reference to the historical significance of the homeowners and homes involved in this. As a result, we voted to deny the request and asked that you do so, also. We feel the vote that was taken reflects the consensus of the community. We believe there is an opportunity for the individual who wants their home included on the National Registry to proceed with that. Do it on your own. But don’t make a decision for people who are not affected by this.”
Strayhorn agreed, and explained to commissioners that anyone who wanted to individually place their property on the Historic Register should nominate their own home, but individual property owners could not opt out of the proposed district if it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
“Let’s not make everyone ride in the car, that at this point still includes Gilchrist,” he said, “and there is some serious concern whether you can effectively take something that is crafted, already set in stone, and say oh, by the way, we want to change it.”
Strayhorn also reminded commissioners that the value of homes on the Historic Register would increase, as would their taxes.
“To paraphrase one of the (local)board members, ‘Please, don’t do me any more favors. If my taxes are going to be increased, let me do it and let me apply, don’t bring me in automatically,’“ he said.
Mikki Hartig, the Sarasota resident who filed the nomination, also spoke. She said she felt misinformation had been given to the commissioners, and felt that proper notification had been given to residents.
In response to that the county attorney’s office said they had never received a notification, and many of the emails they received reiterated that fact.
Another speaker, Ken Snead, said he was there on the behalf of residents who wanted the National Register nomination. He said his clients believed all proper procedures were followed, and said that they would be willing to remove Gilchrist Avenue from the nomination if it would allow the nomination to pass.
We will keep you posted on any new developments. We were unable to determine if this matter would come up at the BGHPB meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 9 at 10 a.m. in the Boca Grande Community Center Auditorium, but there is a good chance it will be discussed in the latter part of the meeting under the agenda entry “Items by the public, board Members or Lee County.”