City of Pensacola must deal with ARB challenge to Bowling opinion

When the City of Pensacola’s Architectural Review Board met yesterday, the members felt it was important to make clear their position on how it treats projects on its agenda. For years, the board has tabled applications that either didn’t have enough information or were considered incomplete.

ARB member Erick Mead discussed the policy with Inweekly in a phone interview this morning. “It’s inefficient, and contrary to good government, to reject every application that isn’t complete. Our position has been to table those items and give the parties time to make the necessary corrections or provide additional information.”

Otherwise, Mead said the developer would have to start over and pay another filing fee.

Mayor Ashton Hayward recently announced that City Attorney Lysia Bowling had rendered an opinion that tabling of an item by the ARB does not constitute taking action on it. According to the mayor, city code requires that the ARB take action on a request brought before it within 31 days, otherwise the request is approved. Based on Bowling’s opinion, the mayor had instructed the building inspections department to issue a demolition permit to demolish the John Sunday House on Romana Street.

“It’s complicated for most people that don’t read our statutes,” said the mayor on a local radio station, “but I think she took her time, and due diligence, and determined that ARB did not act within the 31-day time frame.”

An appeal filed by Elizabeth Schrey stayed the demolition until a hearing before the Zoning Board of Adjustments in June.

Mead asked for a copy of Bowlings’ opinion and was told it hadn’t been put into writing yet. He asked the city attorney to come to yesterday’s ARB meeting to explain her position and was told by staff that Bowling couldn’t attend but would meet with the board when they placed it on their agenda.

In an email to Bowling that he sent earlier in the week, Mead pointed out the sections of the code that deal with historic homes – sections that she may have overlooked:

The Governmental Center District in which the property is located, is assigned to the ARB for review by Section 12-13-3 (E) with the following applicable directions:

“It shall be the duty of the board to approve or disapprove plans for buildings to be erected, renovated or razed which are located, or are to be located, within the historical district or districts and to preserve the historical integrity and ancient appearance within any and all historical districts established by the governing body of the city, …”‘

Section 12-2-22 (B)(2) sets forth review and approval authority for the Governmental Center District by the ARB and states that review and approval by the ARB will be according to the standards of Section 12-2-2 “applicable to the historic zoning districts.”

As a policy matter, I believe that essentially allowing a “default” demolition of a historic structure governed under historic district standards and now under pending review by ARB required by the Code is deeply contradicted by the applicable historic district standards governing that review. See Section 12-2-10(A)(9):

“Demolition of a contributing structure constitutes an irreplaceable loss to the quality and character of the Historic District and is strongly discouraged. Therefore, no permit shall be issued for demolition of a contributing structure unless the owner demonstrates to the board clear and convincing evidence of unreasonable hardship.”

He wrote, “I also am concerned that it may be legally premature for any demolition permit to issue, without further review by the City — and by your office — of the City’s requirements. I do not believe the ARB process is complete or concluded in accordance the Code, and as a member of the ARB I am obviously concerned that it be properly completed in accordance with the Code. I will outline the sources of my concern in that regard.”

Yesterday, the ARB voted to table several items.

How will Mayor Hayward and City Attorney Bowling handle those tabled items?