To be or not to be (a historic district)?

Historic designation can be tough sell

By Nancy Lee Bethea
Resident Community News

With three official historic districts in Jacksonville – Riverside/Avondale, Springfield and St. Johns Quarter – the past is being preserved for future generations.
Springfield, with more than 1,000 buildings over 50 years of age, gained the historic district distinction in 1992. St. Johns Quarter, a small area of Riverside close to the St. Johns River, earned it in 1996. Riverside/Avondale, a neighborhood known for distinct architectural styles, received it in 1998.

Two additional neighborhoods, San Marco and Old Ortega, share some of Jacksonville’s rich heritage, but they are not official historic districts.
What it takes

Gaining status as an historic district is a complicated process generally initiated within neighborhoods, according to Joel McEachin, City Planner and Supervisor, Historic Preservation Section for the City of Jacksonville.

The process begins with a recommendation from the Jacksonville Historic Preservation Commission. Established in 1990, the Jacksonville Historic Preservation Commission is comprised of attorneys, architects and educators. The Commission’s goals include helping the public wade through the historic designation process and shedding light on district and state regulations, according to the City of Jacksonville’s web site. In addition, the Commission strives to help neighborhood organizations protect and preserve their architectural, historic and cultural resources.

Upon acquiring the Commission’s recommendation, a neighborhood must find an entity to sponsor their application to gain historic designation. Only certain entities can sponsor an application, which complicates the process even more, according to McEachin. “Sponsors are usually a council member, the Jacksonville Historic Preservation Commission or neighborhoods working with council people,” he added.

Once a neighborhood submits its application, the City prepares the paperwork technicalities for them. Then, the City sends a report and recommendations to the Commission. If the Commission deems the application complete, they start the clock and the process begins, McEachin said.
If the application moves forward, the City notifies each neighborhood resident of hearings and meetings. The City also provides ballots to enable residents to vote on whether they support seeking the designation as an historic district.

A town meeting then takes place, and a public hearing is held before the Commission, McEachin shared.
Next, the neighborhood’s application is reviewed once more, and if it is approved again by 50 percent or more of the neighborhood’s residents, it heads to Jacksonville’s City Council. If City Council approves the neighborhood’s application, a public hearing before the zoning commission takes place. The approved application then goes before City Council and the Mayor.     Finally, the neighborhood is flagged for permits, and the area’s designation as an historic district begins, McEachin added.
Old Ortega and San Marco – historic or not?

Currently, the neighborhoods of Old Ortega and San Marco lack designations as historic districts, though full of rich history and architecture.
“Historic districts are important for all cities, but they have to be approved by community vote,” Matt Carlucci, San Marco resident and former Jacksonville City Councilman, said.
Reaching unanimity in a residential area is difficult, according to Carlucci, and historic districts are always a thorny issue.

“San Marco has been reluctant to impose restrictions on itself,” he said. “A lot of people would support it, but more members of community feel it could be an invasion of property rights. So, it’s a property rights type of issue.

“The bottom line is residents have been unable to build consensus in [Old Ortega and San Marco] to pass an historic district.”
Still, in Carlucci’s experience, when neighborhoods succeed in gaining historic designation, most residents are pleased they did. “Even those who were opposed to it at the beginning were glad it passed in the long haul,” he said.

With easy access to the St. Johns River, ample walking spaces, unique architecture and rich culture, some may argue an official historic
designation is unnecessary for Old Ortega and San Marco.

“What makes San Marco different is the architecture of the homes. When you’re there, you know you’re in an historic area,” Carlucci said. “The same is true for Ortega and Springfield.”

Historic district red tape a business killer

Intuition Ale Works, a local brewery offering high quality handcrafted beers on King Street, lies within the Riverside/Avondale historic district, a situation offering both benefits and drawbacks.

On the plus side, the area’s rich culture drew Avondale resident Ben Davis to set up shop in Riverside. “It’s the best neighborhood in the city – the most unique, the most loyal,” Davis said. “I knew if I embraced the neighborhood, they’d embrace beer.” And they have.
On the other hand,Intuition’s building is classified as a non-contributing historic structure in an historic district. In addition, the area is zoned light industrial, according to the City of Jacksonville.

The combination of having restrictions on renovating the building plus residential neighbors across the street means Davis is considering a move. “I can’t do much [to the building]. It’s pretty complicated,” he said.

With a non-contributing structure, Davis faces no restrictions on changing the interior of the building as long as it does not affect the exterior, according to Joel McEachin, City Planner and Supervisor, Historic Preservation Section for the City of Jacksonville.

Davis said he’d relocate tomorrow if he could. He hopes to find a new location within three years to prevent renewing Intuition’s King Street lease.
“We want to make more beer, so we’re looking for a larger location, ideally closer to the urban core downtown,” Davis said.

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