Meetings set to hear National Historic Register proposal: And still more answers come to light regarding the pros and cons of an NHR listing

October 2, 2020
By Marcy Shortuse

BY MARCY SHORTUSE – Dates for meetings regarding an ultimate decision to place parts of the residential area of the Boca Grande Historic District on the National Register of Historic places have been firmed up since our report last week, and a bit of new information has come to light.
Meetings on this topic, which was recently presented by a firm out of Sarasota to the Lee County Historic Board, will be held as follows:
• Wednesday, Oct. 14, 10 a.m.: The topic will be heard by the Boca Grande Historic Preservation Board. This will be an informational meeting only, no decisions or suggestions are scheduled to be made.
• Tuesday, Nov. 10: A public hearing has been scheduled with the Boca Grande Historic Preservation Board. We will give you more information on that as it is made available.
• Thursday, Dec. 17: The Lee County Historic Preservation Board will hold a hearing on the matter.
• A public hearing to be held by the State Board may be held on February 4, 2021, but that has not been set in stone yet.
The proposal to attempt to place this property on the National Register of Historic Places came about abruptly in recent days, when it was discovered it was to be presented to the Lee County Historic Preservation Board prior to being heard by the Boca Grande Historic Preservation Board (see last week’s Beacon for this complete story). 
Since that story went to press last week there has been a considerable amount of public outcry and concern, with questions arising as to why there was no public hearing on the matter prior to the proposal’s recommendation to a Certified Legal Government board, why it wasn’t presented to Boca Grande’s own Historic Preservation Board (an entity that is considered to be a CLG), and what the pros and cons of this proposal are for the property owners in the village.
A breakdown of those pros and cons is available on the State of Florida’s website, if you want to see for yourself (links are at the bottom of the story). We wanted to break the information down for you here, in case you don’t have time to read through the web site.
On the page that succinctly sums up what the results of a property’s NHR listing means, you will first find a list of what the historical designation does not do for a property. The topics include the fact that placement on the NHR does not mean a building is forever preserved and cannot be altered or demolished; that (unless the property is state or federally funded, or regulated by local ordinance) the property owner does not have to allow the public into their homes; and that the federal and state governments will not attach restrictive covenants to a property or seek to acquire it because of its listing in the National Register.
The second section of the page explains what the listing will do, and this is where it becomes a bit trickier. Many would argue that placement on the NHR is nothing but an “honor,” but with a bit more scrutiny of this second list you can see where problems might arise.
For instance, the second subhead under this category explains that all properties listed on the NHR need to be “carefully considered when developing projects.” It gives the example of road construction or road improvement within the nominated area, and how such a project would have to deal with a great deal more scrutiny (on several different levels of government) that it would normally be given. 
In this instance, the question has to be asked as to how this would affect Gilchrist Avenue and the median.
One subhead lists the fact that an NHR listing could make a property eligible for a federal income tax credit. This is another argument used by many to say that placement on the Register is a good thing. In fact, this tax credit is only for income-producing properties. It doesn’t mean anything for the residential property owner.
Yet another subhead discusses potential ad valorem tax relief for both income-producing and non-income producing properties, which some proponents of this particular NHR listing have specifically named as a bonus. 
Ad valorem tax relief for property owners is an option, but you don’t have to be placed on the NHR to receive those benefits. Any jurisdiction can take advantage of this. 
On the same website, different page, it clearly states that, “This local program is authorized by Section 196.1997, Florida Statutes, and allows counties and municipalities to adopt ordinances allowing a property tax exemption for up to 100 percent of the increase in assessed improvements resulting from an approved rehabilitation of a qualified historic property. The exemption may remain in effect for up to 10 years … qualified properties may be residential or commercial and must be either individually listed in the National Register of Historic Places, a contributing building in a National Register District, or designated as historic under the provisions of a local preservation ordinance.”
In other words, is specifies that the same ad valorem tax exemption can be requested if the property has been designated as historic by a local preservation ordinance. A listing on the National Registry of Historic Places is not required.
Finally this category specifies that “Listing may make a property exempt from certain Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) requirements and eligible for some Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and building safety code adjustments.”
We went through this bit of information in last week’s article. As we said, placement on the National Historic Register is not necessary to receive FEMA adjustments; the building just has to be considered “historic” and “contributing” to be considered for such relief.
All of this information can be found on the state’s website. The links are listed below. We will keep you posted as more details arise.