| Sarasota Herald-Tribune
VENICE – The owners of a home built in 1926 at 233 Pensacola Road will be allowed to demolish the structure, following a unanimous vote Tuesday by the Venice City Council.
The vote reaffirmed a decision made in August by the city’s Architectural Review Board and denied an appeal made by local history enthusiasts who cited the fact the 1,544-square-foot structure was considered a contributing factor to the John Nolen Plan being listed on the National Register of Historic places in 2009.
The structure itself is one of the original homes built by the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers; however, it has never been deemed historic on its own merit.
Jack and Genice Sullivan, who bought the home in 2014, plan to replace it with a two-story home similar to those built on the opposite side of Pensacola Road, in the Courtyards of Venice.
Sullivan had previously said he hoped to restore the home after it was purchased from the Federal National Mortgage Association.
When Sullivan made his case to the Architectural Review Board in August, he ballparked the cost at more than $300,000 to renovate the home, which has, among other things, a leaky roof that needs to be replaced and soft floors, indicating dry rot.
Curtis Whittaker, who lives in a historic home with his wife, Tommye, took exception to the lack of a firm estimate in August.
On Tuesday, Sullivan’s attorneys, Jackson and Jeff Boone, and contractor Greg Hassler produced a restoration estimate from Venice-based Dave & Rick Builders that detailed about $257,000 costs to rehabilitate the home.
Jackson Boone noted that’s more than five times the value listed for the structure on the Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s website.
Hassler added that it could cost another $75,000 to modernize it further, to make it comfortably habitable for the Sullivans.
Whittaker and other history enthusiasts countered that the loss of the structure would erode the character of Venice and potentially the district itself.
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Whittaker, who wanted the council to deny the application or at least withhold a decision until an appeal of the Architectural Review Board’s decision to allow the two-story home to be built, could be brought before the council.
On Tuesday, the council could rule only on whether to allow the demolition of the 1926 structure, deny it outright, or send the matter back to the Architectural Review Board.
“A consequence of these rules is no one can assess the impact of this demolition on the historic district because you don’t know what’s replacing it,” Whittaker said.
Other residents who live in older homes sided with Whittaker.
“I believe that allowing this house to be demolished would hurt the integrity of the historic district,” Jan Marie Vertefeuille said. “Maintenance and out-of-fashion floor plans aren’t fatal flaws for a house.”
Kelly Wotipka, who lives in a 1926 home on Nassau Street along with Jon Barrick – one of two Architectural Review Board members who opposed the demolition – said their home had all the flaws the Sullivans had in theirs.
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“We saw a diamond in the rough,” said Wotipka, who later added that windows on the south side of their home that were installed 20 years ago now need to be replaced. “Everything that is historic in our house is solid as a rock, and I want to emphasize that.”
Ultimately though, Jeff Boone argued, the Sullivans had done everything required by the city of Venice before arriving at their conclusion that the structure should be demolished.
Council Member Rich Cautero said the issue clearly shows that the city needs to work on its preservation ordinances.
“At the very least, maybe, develop incentives for homeowners to voluntarily list their property on the local historic register,” Cautero said, then added that one possibility would be a 10-year exemption on property taxes for homes added to the historic register.
Now, the city extends an exemption only for the value of improvements, not the overall structure.
Mayor Ron Feinsod added that the issue raised the question about “why we have a historic district if we’re not protecting it and what the value of historic districts are to the city.
“We have no criteria to protect this property.”
Council member Helen Moore, who previously lived in a midcentury home on the island of Venice designed by architect Paul Ruidolph, said the rules weren’t a popularity contest. “It’s law.”
“I dislike the idea of this little old cottage being demolished, but it’s within the law,” Moore said. “A little bit holding my nose about it, but I’m going to vote in favor.”
In other action
Also on Tuesday, the Venice City Council:
• Approved the first readings of both a comprehensive plan amendment and zoning map amendment to allow for the construction of private medical offices on Pinebrook Road, south of the new Sarasota Memorial Health Care System Hospital being built at the intersection of Laurel and Pinebrook roads.
• Agreed to continue waste collection frequently at twice a week, following a presentation that showed minimal savings for the decrease in service and a survey that showed almost 60% of the customers approve maintaining twice-a-week service.
• Approved the first reading of comprehensive plan and land-use changes that would allow Cassata Shores, a three-story condominium, to replace a now defunct beachfront convenience store at 227 The Esplanade.
• Remanded to the Venice Planning Commission an appeal of their denial of an application by the developer of Galleria Shops to build a 12,644-square-foot multi-tenant building with a drive-thru on a 1.38 acre out-parcel on the property.