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Dwindling Resources

December 8, 2023

At a Development Review Commission meeting on December 6, Craig Taraszki, attorney for the developer of a proposed 18-story condo project to be located at 18th St. and 2nd Ave., asserted to Commissioners, “no historic resources will be affected” by the new high rise.

Historic resource or not a historic resource?

He was paraphrasing the City's staff report, which states, “there are no designated local landmarks, properties on the City's "potentially eligible" list, listings in the National Register Historic of Places, or contributing resources to a local historic district or a National Register of Historic Places district onsite or within 300 feet of the property.”

Both Taraszki's and the City's assertions are true. What is also true is that the developer will demolish four homes built between 1925 and 1942 and an 8-unit residential building contructed in 1946.

So, what’s the disconnect? Without an official historic designation, older structures are usually omited from the City’s application review process.

“It’s the way the city defines ‘historic resource,’" says Preserve the ‘Burg board member and historic preservationist, Emily Elwyn. “The city makes a distinction between being designated as a landmark or being located within a historic district and simply being an older home or commercial building," she explained.

If a property is not designated, part of a historic district, or on the City's "Potentially Elligible" list, it’s not taken into account during the city’s application review process. It's not, according to the City, a "Historic Resource." That means even if you're going to demolish five properites that were constructed before the Eisenhower administration, as is the case at 18th St. and 2nd Ave., the City's review of the application will make no mention of it.

“Historic resource" is a bit of a wonky term that refers to a structure or landscape (think cemetery or historic battlefield) with historical significance.

The National Park Service, which administers the Nation Register of Historic Places, helps quantify a sometimes-subjective exercise. Their criterion for designation, which most municipalities including St. Pete also use, includes time period, age of the structure, cultural significance, architectural significance, or a property’s connection to a significant person or event.

The value of historic structures to a community can be significant. From helping to maintain a connection to the past and contributing to the identity and character of a neighborhood, to offering what’s recently been referred to as “naturally occurring affordable housing” (“NOAH” for those in the know), and offering adaptable and affordable spaces for small businesses and artists. Avoiding the wrecking ball can also mean less contruction debris in local landfils.

Looking at affordable housing, according to the Urban Institute, the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit helps financance about 50,000 new housing units annually. But each year, an estimated 200,000 units are demolished. Saving housing that already exists can help norrow this gap.

But the way St. Pete defines "historic" can make all the difference when evaluating whether older properties will stay or go.

"The Deuces, Driftwood, Mirror Lake, most of Central Ave. and, yes, a small pocket neighborhood on 18th St. and 2nd Ave. None of it is protected in a way the City would recognize during their review process. It can all be demolished at any time."

One fix? An October 2021 staff report presented at the City Council’s Committee of the Whole recommended a 50-year threshold when deciding which properites are subject to review and which are not. A widely accepted national standard, Tampa, Deland, and Volusia County all require staff review of properties older than 50 years prior to approving an application for demolition. 

Of course, not every old home or building can (or should) be saved. If it has to come down, "deconstruction" programs in cities such as Seattle or San Antonio, which recently created a Deconstruction & Circular Economy Program to help divert construction waste from landfils, can at least minimize the environmental imact. Currently, construction debris fills about a quarter of Pinellas' landfils, more than any other category of waste.

Elwyn points out that each demolition diminishes the properties around it, leading to more demolitions. She likens the slow loss of historic properties to “death by a thousand cuts - you don’t realize it until it’s gone.”


A date with the wrecking ball:

201 18th St. N., built in 1946
Duplex at 1743 2nd Ave. N.
A recently announced condo project at 4th St. and 4th Ave. S. will demolish this multi-unit residential property.
Also slated for demolition near 4th St. S.
Death by a thousand cuts: The "Fit2Run" building at 256 2nd St. N. was approved for demolition earlier in 2023.
Union Trust Building
March 1, 2023
Local media was abuzz last week with news that the historic Union Trust building at 895 Central Avenue has been leased, with local entrepreneur Jim Fiore announcing plans for a high-end restaurant in the nearly 100-year-old building. While it may have taken a while, that the property is still there to be developed, that its unique architectural details and irreplaceable features such as a basement vault containing original safe deposit boxes, will be reimagined for a new generation, is proof that historic preservation works.
Virtual Reality of Proposed Development at Mirror Lake
January 5, 2023
The City’s Development Review Commission unanimously denied a developer’s application for a 200-foot condo tower planned for the Mirror Lake waterfront.
Map of project location on 4th street between 28th and 29th Avenue North
December 12, 2022
PTB, along with the Historic Old Northeast Neighborhood Association (HONNA) and supported by a strong resident turnout, successfully convinced the city’s Development Review Commission (DRC) to deny special exceptions sought for a drive-thru restaurant and the demolition of a home to create a parking lot on residentially-zoned property.