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When a Home Is Suddenly Called ‘Historic’

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Despite receiving a letter from the City of St. Petersburg last October giving them permission to sell their home and three adjacent buildable lots to a developer for $960,000, Merrill and Karen King received a certified letter the following month putting the brakes on the deal.

The Kings suddenly found the deal for their circa-1925 home – named the Doc Webb property after a previous owner, James Earl “Doc” Webb, who in 1928 founded Webb’s City – in limbo after the city’s Community Planning and Preservation Commission received a third-party application from their neighbor, Anne Dowling, to designate the home as a historic property, which would subject it to historic-preservation guidelines.

Properties with “historic preservation” status often have a unique influence on real estate sales, and a third-party application allows anyone in a community to request a historic designation on a property at any time.

“There’s a lot of desire to live in traditional neighborhoods [in St. Petersburg],” says Derek Kilborn, manager of the city’s urban planning and historic-preservation division. “So, a lot of redevelopment pressure is occurring in those neighborhoods, and that often includes demo and replacement with new construction.” He says that when an owner opposes a designation, the city requires at least six of its eight city councilors (or a commensurate percentage if there are fewer than eight councilors present) to vote in favor for it to pass.

In the King’s case, Dowling and her husband made an offer to buy the entire property for “not less than $750,000” – or $210,000 less than the offer from the developer.

The Kings accuse Dowling of abusing the historic designation process to force them to accept a lowball offer. However, Dowling claims, through her attorney, that she applied for the designation because “the Doc Webb property was determined by preservationists to be among one of only 110 homes in St. Petersburg deemed historically significant.”

Ultimately, in May, the city council voted that the Doc Webb property wasn’t historic, and it has since been demolished. After the hearing, the City Council imposed a six-month moratorium on third-party applications by individuals, as opposed to groups, for historic designation.

The Kings also filed suit against Dowling, her husband, a preservation group that participated in the designation effort, and the group’s attorney for tortious interference.

Source: Wall Street Journal (10/03/19) Frieswick, Kris

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