Historic Board splits vote on Palm project, approves Boca Blooms

■ BY SUE ERWIN

The Boca Grande Historic Preservation Board held a meeting on Wednesday, April 19, which left a few members of the community disappointed.

Four cases involving special certificates of appropriateness were on the agenda.

The first item was a request for an addition to the west side of the house at 291 Palm Avenue.

Lee County Principal Planner Sharon Jenkins-Owen said the former owner renovated the house in 1999, and staff finds this is not a contributing structure. Jenkins-Owen said the question is whether a structure that was built in 1999 is a historic building. Arguments provided in the staff reports reflected that it was not.

Boca Grande resident and Realtor Brian Corcoran purchased the property in 2015. He gave a detailed presentation at the meeting, including conversations with Lee County planners in 2016 saying the property is indeed a contributing property within the historic district.

“Since I am a Realtor, I know my due diligence prior to committing to a sale,” Corcoran said. Three weeks before closing on the property, Corcoran had a meeting at the property with David Benner of Safety Harbor Builders. The meeting was to understand what may or may not be allowed by the Historic Board in Lee County. “During that meeting, we met with Lee County planners who gave me a 15-page document, which on page one listed the status as contributing,” Corcoran said. “The conclusion led me to believe that I’d be able to direct my architect and builder to follow a plan consistent with what would generally be approved by the Boca Grande Historic Board.”

Board members argued that although the existing plans meet FEMA standards, the new two-thirds of the house would not be considered historic. It was also discussed that possibly a mistake was made years ago by former board members who designated the property as contributing.

“What does this say to buyers and sellers of their certainty of their designation? We believe this would be a very bad policy,” said David Benner. “This status has value and this seems beyond unfair.”

Six Board members were in attendance at the meeting, and they split the vote, 3 to 3. The request was denied for lack of approval.

Deputy Lee County Attorney Michael Jacobs said the decision of whether or not to designate or take away the designation is not pertinent to this meeting, and it should be addressed at a future public hearing.

“No one right now is disputing that this property has a contributing designation status – that is not the issue. The issue is whether a change of circumstances warrants a new designation. And again, that would be held at a different time and through a different process,” Jacobs said.

Jacobs then reminded the Board to follow Robert’s Rules of Order in the meetings to keep the discussion of agenda items clear and timely.

Ken Gallander, architect for Morris Depew, gave a presentation about the next item on the agenda: a request to install new roofing, windows and construction of new covered porches and decks at 411, 421 and 431 Palm Avenue (Boca Blooms).

The development consists of a florist and gift shop and a vacant office building. The existing buildings are noncontributing structures accessible on three sides by public right of way at the northwest corner of 4th Street and Palm Avenue. Gallander said site improvements will include enhanced landscaping, renovations and additions to existing buildings, a gathering area of loose shell patio and pathways that are ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act)-compliant. The parking area would be unpaved, granting access to motor vehicles, golf carts and bicycles. The proposal includes two new ADA restrooms to be added to the ground floor plus renovations to the existing kitchen area to allow patrons the opportunity to enjoy food and beverages from the newly created boutique café. He ended the presentation saying the plans are consistent with the design guidelines manual for the Boca Grande Historic District.

Chair Paul Eddy commented that since there will be an open gathering area on the property, there is a concern of underage drinking and kids blaring loud music from boom boxes. Project staff said that concern falls under the consumption-on-premises permit that will be obtained through the State requiring owners to demonstrate security measures to ensure that kind of behavior doesn’t occur. A motion was made to approve the request, and the motion passed.

The third item on the agenda was a request to replace siding, windows, a four-foot-high fence and construct a garage at 580 5th Street. Neighboring resident Bob Vorel attended the meeting and expressed his concern that the project would require the removal of two Bismarck palm trees, and also that the garage would be built within 31 feet of his home. Board members suggested Vorel discuss potential solutions with the property owner. Lee County Planner Peter Blackwell said the project is in compliance with standards and recommended that the Board approve the project. A motion was made to approve, and it passed.

The fourth item on the agenda was a request to construct a sundeck at 271 Gilchrist Avenue. Lee County staff recommended approving the request. A motion was made to approve, and it passed. The next meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m. on Wednesday, May 10.