ST. PETE BEACH — There will soon be five extra sets of eyes weighing in and giving city commissioners their opinions on city projects in the Pass-A-Grille Historic District.
During their Dec. 6 meeting, city commissioners agreed to adopt a policy that requires staff to seek suggestions and input from the Historic Preservation Board before undertaking many projects in Pass-a-Grille. The historic board will then have an opportunity to present its recommendations and opinions to the City Commission, as an advisory group, in a non-binding report.
While the mission of the Historic Preservation Board is to oversee preservation of historic structures in Pass-a-Grille, on several occasions its members said they felt out of the loop and ignored when the city took on other projects in the district at the southern end of the island.
Historic Preservation Board Chairman Chris Marone, who is running unchallenged to become city commissioner from the district in the March election, told commissioners many times the city makes repairs or improvements in the district with historic board members finding out about projects only after they happen.
“They affect historic resources, as we the board see them in the Historic District, that can change the character of the district,” he told commissioners. “We started looking at these things and saying these are things that we’d kind of like to know about before they happen. So how do we include these in our regular review process?”
He said his board considers many items historic resources, because they add to the cultural significance of the area. “We thought it would be appropriate to have the city, if they were willing, create a policy where certain things are reviewed by our board first, and if necessary we’ll make recommendations to the City Commission about what we’re reviewing,” Marone told commissioners.
He called the review process a “buffer” before an issue goes before the commission. “We’re basically asking you guys to utilize us, use us as that first sounding board. The folks that come to our meetings are the ones with their ears to the ground in the Historic District.
“We hear what people like and what they don’t like,” Marone said. “Ultimately, you guys are the decision makers, we’re not, and we understand it. We don’t want to expand authority, we just want the city to adopt a policy that would allow us to review things as they come up. “
Some of the most prized amenities in the Historic District are sidewalks with hex block shapes and shelled alleys, he told commissioners. “It would seem like a nice idea to have nice new poured sidewalks, but there is a ton of people that just want the hex blocks. So we would like input about hex blocks, about consistency in the alleys and whether they’re shelled; all these things that support the historic character of the district. While an alley may not be defined as a resource, it really does affect the character.”
Mayor Al Johnson told Marone, “First of all, we agree. We don’t want to change the character of the place or anything, and I like the fact that we have an extra five sets of eyes looking at these things.”
Marone said an alternative to a city ordinance would be to just have a citywide policy. “We’re not asking for more authority; we’re asking as a courtesy that more things be brought before us. If we don’t create a policy, it’s going to go by the wayside.”
City Manager Alex Rey said city staff and the legal team can work with the historic board to define things the commission can adopt as a policy “to make everybody feel a lot more comfortable.”
Rey noted the commission can adopt a resolution that takes in all the policy guidelines; that would not be as strong as code change, but it is memorialized through a resolution.
The city manager said he will report back to the commission with the new policy guideline.