OPINIONS

The overwhelming numbers are a blowout win for preservation, but in the City of Coral Gables, when it comes to preservation, the game is tied

By Dr. Karelia Martinez Carbonell, Local Preservationist

It is ironic, that precisely this month of May, as historic preservation is being celebrated throughout the world, the City of Coral Gables could be at the brink of losing yet another historic property—the 1930s Pancoast-designed, one-of-a-kind home at 1208 Asturia—or it can exercise its power to preserve it.

An appeal to the City Commission to overturn the Historic Preservation Board’s vote to deny designation of the property will come back for a second vote today, May 26th, at 10am.

Whether one has been following the Pancoast issue or not, the game should have ended back in March with a blowout win for the preservation side.  “Something does not add up,” a neighbor observed.  

Preservation deserves a win in its corner.  Today, the powers that be can break the tie and win the game.

By the numbers: A blowout win for preservation  

1 unique 1930s custom-designed home

1 maverick architect Russell Pancoast

1 well-researched expert report recommending designation by city preservation staff

3 designation criteria met (only 1 required) under city historic preservation ordinance

4 historic board members accept criteria [5 historic board members deny criteria]

1 citizen appeal [after city manager declines his own staff’s recommendation to appeal]

5 local and state preservation groups support designation and appeal

60 letters of support for designation received before historic preservation board

35 letters of support to city manager for city to appeal (he didn’t)

60 signatures in support of appeal fee waiver                                                                                                                

60 emails in support of commission to overturn the historic preservation board decision                                                          

11 speakers support appeal at commission meeting                                                                                                           

4 commissioners/1 recused mayor

2 commissioners vote to overturn [Mena, Keon]/2 commissioners vote to affirm [Fors, Lago]                                                                   

1 article published in a nationally acclaimed publication by well-known author on Pancoast highlighting the genius of the architect and the revolutionary architectural features incorporated in this particular house. (See: http://tropicmagazine.uberflip.com/i/1247760-tropic-may20-issue-emag/41?m4=)

Preservation is not a zero sum game. It should not be weighed against how many buildings are saved versus how many are sacrificed.  Each place matters, and today, preservation deserves a win.

COMMISSION MEETING MAY 26TH ZOOM PLATFORM. APPEAL TO BE HEARD AT 10AM

Karelia Martinez Carbonell is President of the Historic Preservation Association of Coral Gables


YES, as a Certified Local Government, the Decisions of the Quasi-Judicial Historic Preservation Board of Coral Gables Must be Defensible and Justifiable

By: Vicki Cerda

How is historic preservation in Coral Gables governed? Or better said, how should it be governed? This came up as part of the appeal for 1208 Asturia when it was mentioned (at least twice) at the last City Commission meeting that to not designate the qualified property at 1208 Asturia would put in jeopardy the Certified Local Government status of the city and have major repercussions in terms of credibility and grant funding. 

Coral Gables is a city governed by the federal legislation put forth by the National Historic Preservation Act first enacted in 1966. The NHPA sets the federal policy, and the City of Coral Gables, has adopted it. The city employs the Secretary of Interior’s standards with every intervention on historic property in the city and which is cited in every certificate of appropriateness., It also established how we assess historic significance and historic integrity which are the key factors of every designation that the city preservation department puts forth before the Historic Preservation Board. The Act also launched the Certified Local Government program. 

The CLG program is a voluntary certification process that a municipality can achieve. Through the CLG certification, historic preservation becomes public policy with the passage of historic preservation ordinances, and for projects involving federal funds, the city must abide by the federal guidelines.  For all other projects, it’s a local ordinance that takes precedence.

Coral Gables passed its first preservation ordinance in 1973. Through the ordinance, the Historic Preservation Board was established (with the late Arva Moore Parks as its first chair) as well as its makeup and functions. Through the CLG process, the city stated its commitment to historic preservation through the ordinances and through the establishment of the quasi-judicial nine-member Historic Preservation Board whose mission is to “preserve and protect historic or architecturally worthy buildings, structures, sites, quaint neighborhoods and artifacts which impart a distinct historical heritage of the City.”

Another component of the CLG is an agreement by the municipality to commit to telling their WHOLE story, meaning how the community evolved over time and is representative of all populations. Thus the city has a commitment as a CLG to preserve the FULL story of its character in the ongoing story of Coral Gables

A major CLG benefit is that the city qualifies for better and higher access to grant funding. For example, the city received funding for the Merrick House in order to do that restoration.  Another grant example was the restoration of the Coral Gables Museum.  

But certification requires that the proper process is followed, ensuring that the public and property owners are involved in preservation at the local level, and that the local government is providing substantive and procedural due process.  CLG performance is reviewed annually and in-depth every four years. CLGs are required to submit annual reports, copies of meeting agendas and minutes, notifications of new board member appointments, changes to historic preservation ordinances, and updates on local historic designations. A failure to supply this information can result in a determination that a community is not in good standing.  

The Historic Preservation Board needs to follow public meeting best practices, including providing defensible justification for all Board decisions recorded in the meeting minutes. Motions on applications before the board should CLEARLY state the board’s findings of FACT, the applicable STANDARDS, and the board’s decision in the matter. This will make it clear how and why the board reached their decision. 

Aside from losing credibility as a CLG, the City of Coral Gables, could also lose funding by defending a Board that was not in compliance. No time is a good time to face financial uncertainty. It does not cost anything to designate the already qualified property at 1208 Asturia Avenue, but it will cost plenty to lose CLG backing and funding.   

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12 thoughts on “OPINIONS

  1. UPDATE
    ON THE MAY 26TH APPEAL
    RE: 1208 ASTURIA

    THE “PANCOAST” APPEAL [BROUGHT BY HPACG MEMBER VICKI CERDA] FAILED. THE SECOND ROUND ENDED IN ANOTHER 2-2 TIE.

    THE ISSUES OF HEEDING THE CALL FOR PRESERVATION IN THE CONTEXT OF JEOPARDIZING FEDERAL FUNDING AS A CERTIFIED LOCAL GOVERNMENT ARE MORE IMPORTANT THAN EVER.

    IT DOES NOT COST ANYTHING TO DESIGNATE A PROPERTY, BUT IT WILL COST PLENTY TO LOSE FEDERAL FUNDING.

    HOWEVER, MIRACLES CAN HAPPEN..
    IF YOU MISSED THE ARTICLES IN GABLES INSIDER, SEE ABOVE.

  2. Unquestionably rules were violated, and the precedent created by this decision is harmful to our City and residents.

    Thank you to Commissioners Mena and Keon for voting to support the City staff historic preservation officers who provided overwhelming evidence that established this property qualified for historic preservation. Thank you for understanding how important it is to our property values and the beauty of our neighborhoods to preserve and protect our historical heritage and to follow ordinances.

    As detailed by Dr. Carbonell and Ms. Cerda, the erroneous HPB decision raises serious compliance and credibility issues, threatens CLG grant funding, violates our City ordinances, and is just wrong for our community.

  3. As a long time resident of Coral Gables, the decision by HPB emphasizes a lack of integrity, that causes significant concern. This raises suspicion as to why the rules are being tossed out the window so blatantly.

  4. Looking at the outcome of the recent appeal I cannot but wonder, what is going on here? This is a simple, clear cut and transparent issue that should have been voted and solved swiftly by the Historical Preservation Board. However it voted against granting historical landmark designation to this property. They Board circumvented its own written guidelines and the transparency they are bound to abide by when taken such a decision. Furthermore, It stepped over the city’s technical report, it ignores the commission’s own mandated for public discussion of any issues brought to it, let along a controversial one, by sidelining input from dozen of concerned citizens and reputable institutions. More importantly, It has put in jeopardy the future of federal funding, which requieres accuracy, transparency and close monitoring of the receiving agencies and institutions. In addition, the city’s manager in a dereliction of his duty made himself unavailable when he was requested to fill an appeal. His decision not to submit it, can be construe as an attempt to shield the Board’s decision, by de facto killing facto any appeal.
    There is definitely something else at play here. This case should be taken away from CG and be examined in neutral state and federal venues where every hidden agenda and particular interest at play can be uprooted and the skeleton in the closet brought out and placed in full view. Let’s make elected and not elected officials of this town accountable to the law and to the spirit of this city.
    It is sad to say it, but CG is no longer the paradise that George Merrick dreamt to built in 1921. Not when it comes to accountability, transparency and historical preservation.
    Thank you
    AP

  5. Why would 2 commissioners risk Coral Gables potentially losing their CLG funding and credibility by supporting a non compliant board as per the guidelines from Tallahassee? This property clearly qualifies for preservation. Grant $$$$ and federal funding is going to be hard enough to come by in the future without them not following the CLG rules. Why risk it?

  6. It is befuddling, mysterious and maybe even suspicious that this property did NOT receive the protection from the wrecking ball that it so deserves. I hope that Ms. Cerda uncovers the true reasons that this protected, historic home is being slated for demolition. What a shame. This should not be happening in Coral Gables, of all places.

  7. This issue has gone on long enough and wasted to much of our tax paying dollars. Due process has been given and the ruling should remain as this is how a lawful system works.

  8. Re.: 1208 Asturia Avenue
    Questions/Disclosures for Dr. Carbonell, Vicki Cerda, Commissioners Mena & Keon:
    (1) How many residents do anyone know, who live in a museum and who pay for it with their own earned money/resources?
    (2) All of them, please disclose their job descritions (current & past) and their ‘Conflict of Interests’.
    (3) Dr. Carbonell: Excellent statiscal data to present your opinions. Who is paying for your thesis like work? And how many people (statiscal numbers) are out their, who are in ‘Silent majority’, who may vote every election, but who do not have a profession or earn their living like you (all) and who also do not impose their desires on others.
    (4) Has our Staff of Historic Preservation department communicated adequately (more than providing literature/opinions, in theory) to most/all residents to understand their mission; along with the associated costs to achieve that mission & who is paying for it and what are the benefits & burdens for the home owners; who do not understand that mission to begin with.

  9. The HPB has not provided the rationale for their decision to deny historical designation for 1208 Asturia because there IS NO RATIONALE for their decision. This property meets 3 out of 5 criteria for historical designation, thus it SHALL be designated, per the rules. Commissioners, please follow the rules. There is nothing more to discuss.

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