Guest Column: Time is right for City Zoning Code review


Guest Column: Time is right for City Zoning Code review

John Valdes
St Augustine, FL

In January, 2009, I declared that the City of St Augustine needed a zoning regulation review; and, with the economic down turn, we could accomplish the review without the pressure of new projects in the works.

In recent years, our city has had a host of developments proposed (and some built) which would have never been considered as a possibility back in 1975 when our current codes were adopted. One example being the Riberia Street corridor, which could under present zoning see very massive buildings constructed, that would dominate the adjacent residential neighborhoods.

From my perspective, we should bring “form based” zoning back into the discussion. How a building looks and will fit in should be on par with, if not ahead of, the more traditional zoning concerns.

Under our present zoning code, if your neighborhood is outside of the Historic Preservation District, and not on an Entrance Corridor, anyone can build any architectural style they choose — if it satisfies present height, lot coverage, set-back and use requirements.

The city, through its Historic Architectural Review Board (H.A.R.B.) has for decades regulated the form that buildings take in our Historic Preservation classifications. A few years ago, St. Augustine enacted the “Entrance Corridor Guidelines” in which the form and appearance of buildings are subject to review and to some degree of regulation.

Unfortunately, the Entrance Corridor Guidelines only apply to those buildings facing King St., San Marco Avenue and portions of Anastasia Boulevard.

We have had years of experience, and a wonderful degree of success, in protecting the architectural integrity of those old neighborhoods fortunate enough to fall under Historic Preservation zoning. However, when the market returns, if our city and its historic neighborhoods become compromised by an influx of “modern style” out of scale buildings and other structures, our uniqueness and charm will suffer — as will the economic value of our property.

Even though an entirely new, city-wide, form-based zoning plan may be unrealistic to implement today, my suggestion still stands. I do believe an interim review of our present zoning regulations is overdue.

For my suggested plan to work well, we must get our citizens involved. Citizen review committees could be appointed by the City Commission; made up of past Planning and Zoning Board members and others familiar and interested in our present zoning regulations. The volunteer committees could review each zoning classification and make modification recommendations for consideration to the PZB and City Commission. The city has committees in place, such as the parking committee, to explore many issues important to our city. This issue is important – it needs a committee of its own.

*The preceding article was published In the St. Augustine Record in January of 2009. Unfortunately, the St. Augustine City Commission took no action. None has been taken since that date to expand any of the protections enjoyed in our Historic Preservation Zoned area’s to other historic but unprotected neighborhoods. As predicted the building recession has receded and new building has commenced. New homes and buildings have been constructed and others are planned that will be out of scale in size or architecturally out of keeping with the historic neighborhoods in which they have or will be placed.

As a matter of interest the areas of St. Johns County that suffered the least rollback in real estate value during the great recession and recovered the quickest were the Historic Preservation Zoning categories of the City of St. Augustine. St Augustine’s Historic Preservation area is small. The surrounding still un-protected historic neighborhoods are very important “brick and mortar” extensions of our most valuable and marketable resource — our history. All of our historic neighborhoods must retain their unique St. Augustine architectural style, scale and character, or our heritage tourism and the resulting commerce from being the nations “Oldest City” will be negatively affected.

In a couple of weeks, on August 15th, early voting in the St Augustine Primary Election will begin — if you are eligible to vote, you will be able to cast your ballot at any early voting location in the County prior to Election Day, August 26th.

I am asking for your vote for election to the St Augustine City Commission in this election so that I can better push for the preservation of all of our historic neighborhoods. I believe that with a properly implemented, citizen supported plan; I can help us reach a better place for the next four-years. I promise you that I will be a commissioner who will push for the preservation of all of our historic neighborhoods.

Help is on the way. I am a full time resident who is willing and able to help lead us into the next century. Ask yourself what you want our city to look like when our 500th anniversary is celebrated?