NHR nomination shot down in Tallahassee

November 12, 2021
By Marcy Shortuse

On Thursday, Nov. 4 the possibility of the National Register of Historic Places nomination proposed for the residential historic district of Boca Grande becoming a reality faded one more step into the distance … and possibly for good … as the Florida Department of State’s National Historic Review Board unanimously decided that the district was not eligible for nomination.

The proposal, written last year by a Sarasota historian named Mikki Hartig who has worked on other Boca Grande nominations in the past, was not well received by property owners within the district. It was also shot down by the Boca Grande Historic Preservation Board and Lee County officials, based on misrepresentations and inaccuracies within verbiage and a lack of notice nor discussion prior to the nomination between property owners and officials. 

So, it was no surprise that there were numerous Boca Grande people, as well as Assistant Lee County Attorney Amanda Swindle, attending the webinar on November 4 to make sure that the matter was attended to and addressed properly. The matter was supposed to have come before this Tallahassee board in August. However, after an announcement was made by Lee County Attorney Richard Wesch that one of the board members – Marion Almy – had been working with several island people and groups on projects that were associated with the nomination, the National Historic Review Board members determined that without Almy’s ability to vote, there would be no quorum. At that time there were only three board members, and discussion was tabled until more board members were found.

Interestingly enough, in September Gov. Ron DeSantis announced the appointment of five new board members to the Florida Historical Commission, after a very long period of time where only the three board members who served in August presided.

At that August meeting 45 Boca Grande property owners and residents logged in to hear the board’s determination, and to weigh in on their opinion regarding the nomination. Out of that number the majority were overwhelmingly against the proposal.

While there were fewer island people attending the webinar last Thursday, there was still a majority who were against the nomination. The fact that those property owners and others hung on as long as they did to give their opinion was impressive, considering they had to wait for hours for the Boca Grande nomination to come up on the agenda. It was, in fact, dead last on the schedule.

Another interesting piece of the meeting was that, like in August, the National Review board members determined there would a time limit on all speakers, including Attorney Swindle. Their rationale for that decision was that it was late – 5 p.m. – and people wanted to go home.

While Swindle gave her statement without inquiring why presenters for the Boca Grande nomination were given a time limit and no presenters for the other matters of business were given one, in the August meeting Wesch quite clearly and succinctly said it was bad business and illegal for the board to attempt to give him or any other speaker a time limit, when no other speakers had been given the same constraint. Board members took approximately 15 minutes to explain to those who wished to speak that they needed to keep their comments brief, and they would be addressed alphabetically by first name.

Most of the speakers who followed Swindle kept their comments well within the time constraint. They also expressed their dismay that but one, Sally Downey, who owns two residences and a piece of property on Banyan Street, did not seem to care for the board’s decision.

“I’m not going to be brief; I have been waiting for hours to talk,” Downey said. “I speak on behalf of a lot of the people of Boca Grande as I was part of a group that went around and tried to inform people about it this. We’ve been told this meeting is required to be part of the process, even though our local historic preservation board and our county commissioners have voted this nomination down several times. Add to that 80 homeowners went away during a global pandemic who sent in notarized letters objecting to this matter. This in itself should have ended this process, but somehow one non-resident consultant who claims to be doing this for the benefit of Boca Grande has found loopholes which bypass what is clearly the will of the majority of the people.”

Island resident Mary O’Bannon also spoke, and stated she opposed the nomination, as it is filled with inaccuracies. She said she also found it very alarming that they had sat there for four and a half hours while everyone else was able to express themselves for as long as they wanted, but when it came to the people of Boca Grande they were told to “keep it brief” so the board members could go home. 

After numerous public comments Dr. Clifford Smith, who presides over the board, summed up the presentation by saying they were there to determine if the nomination was sufficient in its documentation, materials, etc. to be forwarded to the National Parks Service for eligibility.

“I don’t normally comment on nominations,” he said, “I just chair the meeting. But I find this nomination to be really quite deficient and lacking documentation. However, I will leave it to my panel to voice their opinion.” 

Some of the board members had no comment, others said they were not comfortable with forwarding the nomination. One board member, Kathy Kauffman, had a bit more to say.

“After a full afternoon of looking at wonderful nominations and hearing such robust community support, I’ve got to say it’s a shame to deal with a bunch of angry residents,” she said. “I’m sorry you feel blindsided by the process, if that’s the way you actually feel. As someone who has been doing historic preservation for 26 years, normally this is the complete wrong way to go about doing a historic district and I’m sorry you find yourself in this situation.”

Kauffman also said she was very sorry that the residents of the island did not want to “celebrate their history,” but that she would not support the nomination at this time. 

She said while she understood, she was not appreciative of a letter she received from someone saying they would “come after her” with a lawsuit if the board pushed the matter forward.

The motion was made and seconded to find the nomination deficient and inadequate to send to the National Parks Service, and all board members agreed. 

While this could very well be the end of the matter, we have thought that before. We will keep you posted if any more surprises come up regarding the nomination.

The proposal, written last year by a Sarasota historian named Mikki Hartig who has worked on other Boca Grande nominations in the past, was not well received by property owners within the district. It was also shot down by the Boca Grande Historic Preservation Board and Lee County officials, based on misrepresentations and inaccuracies within verbiage and a lack of notice nor discussion prior to the nomination between property owners and officials. 

So, it was no surprise that there were numerous Boca Grande people, as well as Assistant Lee County Attorney Amanda Swindle, attending the webinar on November 4 to make sure that the matter was attended to and addressed properly. The matter was supposed to have come before this Tallahassee board in August. However, after an announcement was made by Lee County Attorney Richard Wesch that one of the board members – Marion Almy – had been working with several island people and groups on projects that were associated with the nomination, the National Historic Review Board members determined that without Almy’s ability to vote, there would be no quorum. At that time there were only three board members, and discussion was tabled until more board members were found.

Interestingly enough, in September Gov. Ron DeSantis announced the appointment of five new board members to the Florida Historical Commission, after a very long period of time where only the three board members who served in August presided.

At that August meeting 45 Boca Grande property owners and residents logged in to hear the board’s determination, and to weigh in on their opinion regarding the nomination. Out of that number the majority were overwhelmingly against the proposal.

While there were fewer island people attending the webinar last Thursday, there was still a majority who were against the nomination. The fact that those property owners and others hung on as long as they did to give their opinion was impressive, considering they had to wait for hours for the Boca Grande nomination to come up on the agenda. It was, in fact, dead last on the schedule.

Another interesting piece of the meeting was that, like in August, the National Review board members determined there would a time limit on all speakers, including Attorney Swindle. Their rationale for that decision was that it was late – 5 p.m. – and people wanted to go home.

While Swindle gave her statement without inquiring why presenters for the Boca Grande nomination were given a time limit and no presenters for the other matters of business were given one, in the August meeting Wesch quite clearly and succinctly said it was bad business and illegal for the board to attempt to give him or any other speaker a time limit, when no other speakers had been given the same constraint. Board members took approximately 15 minutes to explain to those who wished to speak that they needed to keep their comments brief, and they would be addressed alphabetically by first name.

Most of the speakers who followed Swindle kept their comments well within the time constraint. They also expressed their dismay that but one, Sally Downey, who owns two residences and a piece of property on Banyan Street, did not seem to care for the board’s decision.

“I’m not going to be brief; I have been waiting for hours to talk,” Downey said. “I speak on behalf of a lot of the people of Boca Grande as I was part of a group that went around and tried to inform people about it this. We’ve been told this meeting is required to be part of the process, even though our local historic preservation board and our county commissioners have voted this nomination down several times. Add to that 80 homeowners went away during a global pandemic who sent in notarized letters objecting to this matter. This in itself should have ended this process, but somehow one non-resident consultant who claims to be doing this for the benefit of Boca Grande has found loopholes which bypass what is clearly the will of the majority of the people.”

Island resident Mary O’Bannon also spoke, and stated she opposed the nomination, as it is filled with inaccuracies. She said she also found it very alarming that they had sat there for four and a half hours while everyone else was able to express themselves for as long as they wanted, but when it came to the people of Boca Grande they were told to “keep it brief” so the board members could go home. 

After numerous public comments Dr. Clifford Smith, who presides over the board, summed up the presentation by saying they were there to determine if the nomination was sufficient in its documentation, materials, etc. to be forwarded to the National Parks Service for eligibility.

“I don’t normally comment on nominations,” he said, “I just chair the meeting. But I find this nomination to be really quite deficient and lacking documentation. However, I will leave it to my panel to voice their opinion.” 

Some of the board members had no comment, others said they were not comfortable with forwarding the nomination. One board member, Kathy Kauffman, had a bit more to say.

“After a full afternoon of looking at wonderful nominations and hearing such robust community support, I’ve got to say it’s a shame to deal with a bunch of angry residents,” she said. “I’m sorry you feel blindsided by the process, if that’s the way you actually feel. As someone who has been doing historic preservation for 26 years, normally this is the complete wrong way to go about doing a historic district and I’m sorry you find yourself in this situation.”

Kauffman also said she was very sorry that the residents of the island did not want to “celebrate their history,” but that she would not support the nomination at this time. 

She said while she understood, she was not appreciative of a letter she received from someone saying they would “come after her” with a lawsuit if the board pushed the matter forward.

The motion was made and seconded to find the nomination deficient and inadequate to send to the National Parks Service, and all board members agreed. 

While this could very well be the end of the matter, we have thought that before. We will keep you posted if any more surprises come up regarding the nomination.

The proposal, written last year by a Sarasota historian named Mikki Hartig who has worked on other Boca Grande nominations in the past, was not well received by property owners within the district. It was also shot down by the Boca Grande Historic Preservation Board and Lee County officials, based on misrepresentations and inaccuracies within verbiage and a lack of notice nor discussion prior to the nomination between property owners and officials. 

So, it was no surprise that there were numerous Boca Grande people, as well as Assistant Lee County Attorney Amanda Swindle, attending the webinar on November 4 to make sure that the matter was attended to and addressed properly. The matter was supposed to have come before this Tallahassee board in August. However, after an announcement was made by Lee County Attorney Richard Wesch that one of the board members – Marion Almy – had been working with several island people and groups on projects that were associated with the nomination, the National Historic Review Board members determined that without Almy’s ability to vote, there would be no quorum. At that time there were only three board members, and discussion was tabled until more board members were found.

Interestingly enough, in September Gov. Ron DeSantis announced the appointment of five new board members to the Florida Historical Commission, after a very long period of time where only the three board members who served in August presided.

At that August meeting 45 Boca Grande property owners and residents logged in to hear the board’s determination, and to weigh in on their opinion regarding the nomination. Out of that number the majority were overwhelmingly against the proposal.

While there were fewer island people attending the webinar last Thursday, there was still a majority who were against the nomination. The fact that those property owners and others hung on as long as they did to give their opinion was impressive, considering they had to wait for hours for the Boca Grande nomination to come up on the agenda. It was, in fact, dead last on the schedule.

Another interesting piece of the meeting was that, like in August, the National Review board members determined there would a time limit on all speakers, including Attorney Swindle. Their rationale for that decision was that it was late – 5 p.m. – and people wanted to go home.

While Swindle gave her statement without inquiring why presenters for the Boca Grande nomination were given a time limit and no presenters for the other matters of business were given one, in the August meeting Wesch quite clearly and succinctly said it was bad business and illegal for the board to attempt to give him or any other speaker a time limit, when no other speakers had been given the same constraint. Board members took approximately 15 minutes to explain to those who wished to speak that they needed to keep their comments brief, and they would be addressed alphabetically by first name.

Most of the speakers who followed Swindle kept their comments well within the time constraint. They also expressed their dismay that but one, Sally Downey, who owns two residences and a piece of property on Banyan Street, did not seem to care for the board’s decision.

“I’m not going to be brief; I have been waiting for hours to talk,” Downey said. “I speak on behalf of a lot of the people of Boca Grande as I was part of a group that went around and tried to inform people about it this. We’ve been told this meeting is required to be part of the process, even though our local historic preservation board and our county commissioners have voted this nomination down several times. Add to that 80 homeowners went away during a global pandemic who sent in notarized letters objecting to this matter. This in itself should have ended this process, but somehow one non-resident consultant who claims to be doing this for the benefit of Boca Grande has found loopholes which bypass what is clearly the will of the majority of the people.”

Island resident Mary O’Bannon also spoke, and stated she opposed the nomination, as it is filled with inaccuracies. She said she also found it very alarming that they had sat there for four and a half hours while everyone else was able to express themselves for as long as they wanted, but when it came to the people of Boca Grande they were told to “keep it brief” so the board members could go home. 

After numerous public comments Dr. Clifford Smith, who presides over the board, summed up the presentation by saying they were there to determine if the nomination was sufficient in its documentation, materials, etc. to be forwarded to the National Parks Service for eligibility.

“I don’t normally comment on nominations,” he said, “I just chair the meeting. But I find this nomination to be really quite deficient and lacking documentation. However, I will leave it to my panel to voice their opinion.” 

Some of the board members had no comment, others said they were not comfortable with forwarding the nomination. One board member, Kathy Kauffman, had a bit more to say.

“After a full afternoon of looking at wonderful nominations and hearing such robust community support, I’ve got to say it’s a shame to deal with a bunch of angry residents,” she said. “I’m sorry you feel blindsided by the process, if that’s the way you actually feel. As someone who has been doing historic preservation for 26 years, normally this is the complete wrong way to go about doing a historic district and I’m sorry you find yourself in this situation.”

Kauffman also said she was very sorry that the residents of the island did not want to “celebrate their history,” but that she would not support the nomination at this time. 

She said while she understood, she was not appreciative of a letter she received from someone saying they would “come after her” with a lawsuit if the board pushed the matter forward.

The motion was made and seconded to find the nomination deficient and inadequate to send to the National Parks Service, and all board members agreed. 

While this could very well be the end of the matter, we have thought that before. We will keep you posted if any more surprises come up regarding the nomination.