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.