Recently an application has been made for Driftwood historic designation. The application to make the Driftwood neighborhood a historic district may sound like a great thing for homeowners for those less familiar with the law, but for many homeowners in the Driftwood district, this historic designation may have serious consequences!
Driftwood Historic Designation Causes Problems for Homeowners
A request has been put forth by the majority of residents of the Driftwood district to make the southwest waterfront neighborhood a historic district. Despite the majority of homeowners in the area being for the designation, however, not all residents are on board and for those who don’t support the proposal, it is creating a host of problems.
The request to make the big enclave off Big Bayou a local landmark is an effort by preservationists to “keep St. Pete special”. Those in support of the effort claim that an increase in population has resulted in improvements to the area that have eliminated sites and features that were the epitome of Hays County’s character. The implication is that as the population of Driftwood continues to expand, the character that makes the area so special will be all but eliminated. So, the effort to make Driftwood a historical site was put forward.
While the concept in and of itself isn’t so bad, the problem arises when you consider those who live in the district who will be restricted and encumbered by the declaration if it is approved.
Problems for Homeowners in Driftwood Historic Designation
I represent a client, Daniel Schuh, 80, in the area who is one of those who will be seriously impacted if the historical declaration is approved. Why? Because with a historical declaration, my client’s home would be labeled a historical site and may not be demolished despite the fact that it requires repairs that tally over 50% of the total value of the home.
Prior to the request to make the Driftwood district a historical site, Schuh had secured a buyer for his home. The buyer had plans to demolish the uninhabitable structure and build a new home on the site. Should the request to make the area a historical site go through, however, the sale would fall through since the buyer would be barred from demolishing what would be a historical site and rebuilding a new home in the area.
It’s not that Schuh disagrees that the area is historically significant, however, should the area be deemed historically significant on paper it means that he and other residents in the area would effectively be trapped in their homes – unable to sell them, because no one would buy a home that is uninhabitable when they are unable to rebuild a structurally sound property on the site.
Driftwood Historic Designation Would Trap Some Homeowners
It is not only that Schuh would be trapped in his home, however, in his case, the home he owns in the area is structurally unsound and in order to make it structurally sound, an investment of over 50% of the home’s value would be required. This poses another problem in that federal ruling states that you may not put more than 50% of a home’s value into repairing the structure of that home. If more than 50% of a home’s value is invested into repairs of the home, then under the floodplain rules the project is subject to substantial improvements and substantial damage regulations and breaking those regulations means paying penalties to FEMA and increased insurance rates for everyone in the city!
Peter Belmont, attorney and the vice president of the movement to make the area a historical site states that Schuh would be able to apply for a demolition permit in a historic district if the house truly is beyond repair, however, having to ask permission to demolish your own property that is clearly uninhabitable flies directly in the face of existing property rights! It is not only Mr. Schuh who would be trapped in his home should the historic designation move forward, either!
Since the movement does continue to press forward, I am standing up for clients like Mr. Schuh who would experience true financial hardship as a result of the designation being granted. Again, it’s not that any of us dispute the historical and cultural significance of the area, however, when a designation of historically significant traps residents and property owners in unsafe properties and or causes them financial hardship while directly violating their existing property rights, action is needed.
Last night, March 7th, the city council scheduled a special meeting at 5:30 pm to have a public hearing and vote on the Driftwood historic district application. To our dismay, the historic district designation was approved in a vote of 6-2.