LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Resident gives her perspective regarding National Register proposal

September 25, 2020
By Marcy Shortuse

To the Editor:
Because there appear to be some misunderstandings and concerns regarding the nomination of the residential area of our Historic District for the National Register of Historic Places, I took some time to read and research the presentation. I hope to provide some clarification.
First of all, to have our historic village listed on National Register of Historic Places is a great achievement and we should all be proud and enthusiastic about it. 
In reading through the submission I was impressed that in the residential district outlined out of a total of 129 properties there are 97 contributing historic properties. That is an astounding number of historic buildings that have been preserved! There is literally no other place like this anywhere in Florida. This speaks so well of the efforts of the Historic Preservation Board and Lee County in helping to preserve the historic resources of Boca Grande over the years.  
Preservation of our natural environment and the scale and charm of our historic village was the primary goal of our Community Plan and if it had not initially been for the GICIA and the creation of the Gasparilla Island Conservation District Act, we would certainly not be in this position today.
The commercial area of our village was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2011. There wasn’t the budget at the time to do the residential district. A District listing is basically an inventory of qualifying contributing buildings. It has nothing whatsoever to do with parking or beach access. If there are enough contributing historic buildings in a given area which meet the criteria, a National Register District can be applied for. Significant individual properties can apply for their own listing as the Gasparilla Inn did in 2008.  
There are some tax advantages and possibly grants available if certain criteria are met.  Perhaps the most important advantage is in the event of a catastrophic storm or fire the owner of a contributing property would be able to build back without having to meet higher FEMA flood elevation and would be exempt from the 50 percent rule.  
Considering our location on a barrier island, this is a distinct, if not critical advantage not only to the individual homeowners, but for the preservation of the character and scale of our village.
When working on our Community Plan years ago and more recently in reviewing the comments from the Community Plan Update Survey from last spring, the outstanding public sentiment was that Boca Grande was a very special place and we all needed to work to protect and preserve it. 
A National Register Listing does not add another layer of bureaucracy. The process of building or renovating in our existing Historic District is exactly the same. Properties in the district already have to comply with the Secretary of the Interior’s Guidelines for Historic Preservation.  This is a Lee County requirement under Chapter 22 of the Land Development Code.  
According to the letter from Ruben Acosta of the State Bureau of Historic Preservation, to Anthony Rodriguez AICP of the Lee County Community Development Department. The Florida National Register Nomination Proposal was prepared by the State Historic Preservation Office  “in order to solicit a review and recommendation concerning eligibility by the Certified Local Government”  (CLG) (The CLG is Lee County Government.)  Certain procedures are specified. Before properties within the jurisdiction of the CLG may be considered by the State for inclusion in the National Register, the State Historic Preservation Officer “shall notify the owners, the applicable chief local elected official and the local historic preservation commission” (Lee County Historic Preservation Board). That is the process that started on September 17. The State Historic Preservation Officer is in charge of notifying the home owners and I assume that is in process.
The presentation to the Lee County Historic Preservation Board (HPB) was merely a first step in the process.  The presentation will then be sent to the Boca Grande Historic Preservation Board (BGHPB). Their regular meeting is an advertised public meeting and there would be a presentation and a public comment period.  After a reasonable opportunity for public comment, the BGHPB would prepare a report as to whether or not such properties meet the eligibility criteria.
Then it will go back to Lee County to transmit the report of the HPBs and their recommendations to the State. The State then proceeds with the nomination. 
There are no new regulations because of the listing. The construction review process and regulations in the Lee County Boca Grande Historic District are the same as always. There are no negatives that I can see. The possible tax benefits, grant money and the ability to build back are all advantages. Seems like a win-win to me.
Lynne Seibert
Boca Grande