Letter: We may need our “Vision” tested

Lee Geanuleas
St Augustine, FL

Dear Historic City News editor:

The picture below shows the boundaries of the Historic Preservation District 5 (HP-5). I have highlighted the property currently owned by hotel developer Kanti Patel and property in HP-5 that Mr. Patel has either made an offer to buy or in which he has expressed an interest.

The scarlet colored block on the right (east) end of the block, between West Castillo Drive and Grove Avenue, was taken out of HP-5 in 2006 when Mr. Patel was granted a planned unit development (PUD) for a four-story hotel with underground parking.

That decision reduced HP-5 by about 15%.

Now, 11-years later, Mr. Patel tells the city that he just learned that “underground site issues” preclude the underground garage. Since he recently bought the Barnacle Bill’s restaurant and its satellite parking lot (pink blocks), he would like to rezone those parcels out of HP-5 and into his hotel PUD for use as hotel valet parking lots.

Mr. Patel’s request to rezone Barnacle Bill’s will be considered by the Planning & Zoning Board this Tuesday, February 7th starting at 2:00 p.m. at the Willie Galimore Center (399 Riberia Street). If approved, that will remove about 6% from what’s left of the HP-5 district. Yikes!

Mr. Patel also owns the old Chamber of Commerce building and lot at the west end of West Castillo facing Riberia Street (brownish block). He reportedly has made a yet unsuccessful bid to buy the 0.43-acre lot next door. Patel is a hotel developer, so it’s unlikely he wants to own these lots, just to own them — it’s more likely that he has a development plan in mind, as well, for those properties on the west end of the street.

HP-5 contains 13 historic houses which are “Contributing Structures” to the North City National Register Historic District. HP-5 was created to serve as protection for those lovely homes and as a buffer.

If the city rips another 6% out of HP-5, then it will have reduced HP-5 by about 20%. At that point, is it still a viable and sustainable HP district? What do you think will happen to the rest of the district, particularly since that same developer owns another property in the same district? What will become of residential properties on Grove Avenue and north of Grove Avenue in the remainder of the Historic District?

In the 2014 “Vision” Document, the City CLAIMS to value it’s history and seeks authenticity. If the city dismantles a Historic Preservation District for the convenience and benefit of a developer, what does that say about that claim? What is our true vision?

If you want the city to support its published vision, please come out and share your thoughts with the PZB next Tuesday at 2:00 p.m. at the Willie Galimore Center.

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