City building official halts first 450th structure

Thursday, May 31, the non-profit St Augustine Maritime Heritage Foundation invited Historic City News readers to attend the dedication of Fuego del Mar; the first permanent structure of St Augustine’s 450th Commemoration — a replica 16th century boathouse at the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park.

Today, the volunteer craftsmen, who have been using authentic log shavers, posthole diggers, ropes and pulleys of the 16th century, to re-create the thatch-covered boathouse where a 37-foot multi-purpose Chalupa will be built, are off the job following a visit from the city’s building official, William Franke.

The Foundation is one of the city’s “allies” — part of the St Augustine 450th Commemoration Alliance program; the value and significance of which many St Augustine residents say is doubtful.

“What we’re doing is not just about building 16th century vessels,” Foundation President Maury Keiser told Historic City News. “It’s about better understanding and retaining the significance of that age of exploration, and developing educational sailing platforms offering instruction for present and future generations.”

Franke sees things differently. In a statement from Mark Knight, Director of the Planning and Building Department, and Franke’s supervisor, the city has known about the boathouse and has been waiting for a contractor to come in to get a building permit.

Since no one came in, Franke saw it as his duty to shut down any further construction on the project until a code-compliant plan is approved and the required paperwork is filed to issue a building permit.

Franke told owner, John Fraser, that there are safety concerns because plans call for allowing people to go inside the boathouse and watch volunteers building a copy of the chalupa.

“How do you recreate history with today’s building codes and fire codes?” Fraser asked, puzzled by the action. “Clearly they didn’t have building codes in the 16th century.”

From a presentation given to the St Augustine City Commission in February by Jennifer Zuberer, 450th Commemoration Communications and Resources Manager:

No Bureaucracy

“Leave bureaucracy at the door. Red tape is unwelcome. The City of St. Augustine is committed to creating efficient and effective engagement of the community, visitors and potential economic allies.”

While the Foundation is concerned that they may lose qualified volunteers due to the shutdown, the property’s owners, the Fraser family, report that they had no idea they needed a permit to construct a replica of the rustic post-and-beam boathouse on the site where it would have stood when the town was settled in the 1500’s.

Keiser is calling for a fast resolution to this interruption, pointing out that the Foundation gets no government money. “We’ve had to rely on membership and the goodwill of people who have donated things,” Keiser said.

Knight is defending Franke’s actions. He previously told Historic City News that Franke received certification from the State as a building code administrator on September 28th of last year — making him able to be promoted from Building Inspector to replace Nick Andrade as Building Official on October 1, 2011. Franke has been employed by the City since November 2007 and is now paid $57,581.40 per year.

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