HOLMES BEACH – While city officials have declined requests from beleaguered residents to stop new vacation rental development with a building moratorium, one resident has proposed a new idea – a moratorium on demolitions.
Too many historic homes are being razed and redeveloped as big box rentals, Holmes Beach resident Terry Parker told commissioners last week.
"There's an extraordinary number of buildings coming down in a short period of time," said Parker, a self-described architect, planner, construction manager and development investor, who serves on a city committee created to solve rental problems like noise, trash, parking and overcrowding.
About 20 percent of residents left Anna Maria Island in the first 10 years of this century, according to the 2010 census, he said, adding that many of their older homes have been replaced with big vacation rentals built or bought by out-of-town investors.
"Northern investors build big houses because they need big houses up north," where several months of the year, it's too cold to enjoy the outdoors, he said. They decide to build big before they understand that in Florida, people don't need as much indoor space because they spend more time outdoors, he said.
"It's a shame to lose local residents," he said. "It's not the same place. What makes Anna Maria Island special is disappearing."
The most common historic preservation strategy is creating a historic district, a process that could take two years, according to Linda Molto of the Cortez Village Historical Society, which established a historic district in nearby Cortez.
In the case of Holmes Beach, it's probably too late for a historic district, Parker said, explaining, "On almost every block there is already a big duplex."
Adding historic buildings to the National Register of Historic Places is another option, but many homes could be sold and demolished in the meantime, he said.
However, with a demolition moratorium, the city could address historic homes one by one, as owners apply for permits to demolish and redevelop. Every house that is 50 years old or older could be subject to the city's scrutiny, he said, and those that are deemed historic may be denied demolition permits.
"We need to come up with legislation to preserve the soul of this community," Parker said.
The impending sale of the historic home of Hugh Holmes, the city's namesake, is a prime example of such a home, said Mary Buonagura, a member of another city committee addressing rental problems, adding, "If we don't talk about it, we can't save it."
"People don't think there's any history here, but there is a history worth saving," Parker said, citing the "baseball" houses in Anna Maria, a lost opportunity for preservation.
Warren Spahn, a Baseball Hall of Famer who pitched for the Milwaukee Braves, gave the baseball treatment to a cluster of homes where Braves ballplayers stayed during spring training in Bradenton, where the club trained from 1953 to 1962. Each house sported a sign, like The Mound, Home Plate, Infield, Outfield, Shortstop, Catcher's Mitt and The Diamond.
With a demolition moratorium, the neighborhood of historic ranch homes could have been preserved and marketed by a clever rental agent as a local attraction, rather than being demolished and replaced with huge homes, Parker said.
The Holmes Beach Commission may address the suggestion at its Tuesday, April 10, commission meeting at 7 p.m., when commissioners, each in charge of a rental committee, are expected to give their final committee reports.
Three Holmes Beach commissioners, Sandra Haas-Martens, John Monetti and David Zaccagnino, have repeatedly turned down residents' requests for a building moratorium, asking for time for the committees to work out solutions to rental problems. Commissioner Jean Peelen has repeatedly requested a moratorium, while Commission Pat Morton has said he is willing to discuss it.
"It's going to take a long time to get the apparatus in place to keep places from being demolished," Parker said. "But I don't know if there's any time left."