Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Keeping Our Character

Our history tells our story. The history of a town tells about the hopes and aspirations of those that have lived there.

When we came to Sarasota, as nearly all of us did, we brought along with us our personal stories. Now we have a different setting for these stories to continue to unfold. Many of us have not had much of a chance to consider Sarasota's history - instead we look at what is here today and maybe try to change it into what we brought with us (our own past). Or maybe we fall prey to the extensive lifestyle marketing that shows what a perfect life can be like, if only we buy into the latest and greatest luxury development.

But Sarasota does have a unique story. When we read about its history, look at historical pictures and places and wander around all the different neighborhoods we begin to get a stronger sense of why this place is unique. Losing this character has been a frequent issue in the past few years and we face challenges today as we try to retain our character. The pressure to demolish the old and replace with expensive (but profitable) new buildings has been tremendous in Sarasota.

When people say "Sarasota is not the same old small town resort", that is not exactly true. There have been changes, changes that many would say are detrimental. But the history and the underlying character remain. The stories are still told and they still beckon new arrivals. A small town in a wonderful place with unique character is hard to beat.

But bit by bit the economic force of profit continues to exert pressure on Sarasota's character.

An editorial in the Palm Beach Post tells about efforts in Stuart to preserve some of that town's heritage.
Owners of historic homes have problems. The cost of keeping up old wood frame houses can be prohibitive. But just when the situation seems hopeless, along comes Mac Stuckey with a great idea.

Stuart voters approved another of Mr. Stuckey's great ideas on Election Day, when they made Stuart submit any plans for developing city-owned waterfront to voters for approval. "We need to encourage people to leave historic buildings right where they are," he said. "We should give people who have historic properties a tax assessment reduction and other incentives to keep their property exactly like it is."

Mr. Stuckey served on Martin County's Historical Preservation Board for three years, but said the county ordinance doesn't give a private landowner enough incentive to preserve historical structures on land that is rapidly growing in value. The law gives a "designated" historic building a 10-year moratorium on taxes attributable to restoration, but gives no help for homes already restored or for the land itself.

Instead, Mr. Stuckey suggests a 50 percent reduction in the assessed value or millage rate for the initial assessment, along with a yearly cap on increases, similar to the 3 percent Save Our Homes cap. Owners would be invited, but not required, to designate their properties as historic. Both the county and Stuart would have to approve separate historic preservation laws.

Developers won't like this plan; owners would have as much incentive to preserve as to sell their property. "I want to keep the good things about Stuart," Mr. Stuckey said. "I don't want it to look like every other coastal town. I want it to look like Stuart." His idea could make that possible - in Stuart and elsewhere in South Florida.

Instead of demolishing the historic structures that tell the story of our past, finding ways to keep them in place allows our heritage to remain with us. We came here because of the climate, the natural and cultural amenities, the small town atmosphere. This unique atmosphere has a powerful draw. We need to allow these stories to continue to unfold as this is the essence of the unique Sarasota that drew us here.

Turning character into concrete is not why we came here.

1 comment:

Keech.... said...

Mr. Clapp, although I feel that everyone has the right to their own opinion, I must say that as a resident of Sarasota since 1956 your comments are somewhat disturbing to me. You write about keeping the history and the small town feel to Sarasota but you havent really felt the effects of whats happened here over the years. My family and most of my friends have been in the construction business for most of our lives. This puts us in a unique situation on the subject of preservation and the history of this town. Im a 56 year old mason and still get up every morning to go out and labor all day long. I have never been much with finance and will never have enough money to retire. So be it. As a 63 year old Im sure you remember that most workers and farmers in our parents and grand-parents generations were in about the same position as I am. Their retirement came in the form of a tract of land and a home that was passed on down from generation to generation. In my case this wont happen. So be it. As far as Sarasota is concerned it was a very small town in 1956. The Memorial Hospital was considered out of town and the High School (Sarasota High) was on the boarder.
In the 1960s construction and the modern approach came to town. Old buildings were demolished or renovated and Sarasota was marketed as a modern and forward thinking town. This was before "History Preservation" was even considered nation wide. The only history that was really important at that time was whether you had ancestors that came over on the Mayflower or you were related to someone that was of historical national interest at the time. Your attitude of, "keeping Sarasota how it was when you moved here", is not a new idea. Its been going on since the 1970s. Sarasota has been growing at a rapid pace since then and no one has been even close to stopping it to this point and it wont be stopped. At some point you have to let it go and spend your time on things that you can effect.
Its interesting to see all the subjects that our local population gets behind. Save Riverview High School comes to mind. I graduated from this school in 1969. No one thought much of the design then and most dont care for it now. I wonder if you remember the little house that was torn down a few years ago that was on the school grounds by the tennis courts. I would guess that it was built in the 1920s or so. It had hand cut siding out of cypress that was amazing. Did anyone check into the history of that house? What family connection did they have to Sarasota history? They want to save the school because the architect has a name. He doesnt have a name that is really connected with Sarasota, just a famous name. At the time he built that (1958) he was part of the moderization of Sarasota, much like the condos of today. Im impressed with people like yourself that spend time on things that you really believe in but Im too busy trying to survive this town of changes. Thats why my wife and I are planning to move to a small town again. We will be following most of my friend that have been driven out because of that progress. It allowed us a living and helped us raise families and I thank it for that. But now its time for us to go. I guess it just isnt the "Sarasota that was when we moved here." So be it.