Pensacola, Florida
Thursday December 14th 2017

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A Dialogue on Development and Preservation

By Shelby Nalepa

As downtown Pensacola experiences a resurgence of development, questions are raised about the value of historic preservation and commercial and residential growth. Who decides if a building can be built or demolished? What factors come into play during those decisions?

To answer these questions, WUWF is hosting a panel discussion Monday on the topic of historic preservation and urban development in the greater downtown Pensacola area. The panel discussion will be held at the Bowden Building downtown and will be open to the public and feature a question-and-answer portion.

Panelists will include Habitat for Humanity Executive Director Tim Evans, urban planner Christian Wagley, City Council President Brian Spencer, Eddie Todd of the Belmont-DeVilliers Neighborhood Association, business and property owner Robin Reshard, Steven Sebold of aDoor Properties and Architectural Review Board member Carter Quina.

“Over the past year or so we’ve seen flashpoints of historic preservation like the John Sunday House, Girard Place, Hallmark Elementary School and others. But it seemed as if every time these issues were brought up it centered around a singular place or decision,” said WUWF’s digital content producer Lindsay Myers said.

“We wanted to have a larger conversation without something specific at stake and without pitting parties against one another or ‘taking sides.’ So our goal is simply to act as moderators of a conversation that hasn’t really happened in a public way,” Myers added.

Topics will encompass the competing and complementary values of preservation and development and will include current opportunities and profitability of commercial and residential development, the role of non-profit developers in overall growth, the value of preservation and the role of the Architectural Review Board, local building and design codes, walkable neighborhoods and culturally significant areas without historic designation.

“People are talking this over with their friends, our city and county officials are having conversations about it, hearing about it from their constituents, and large and small scale developers see the opportunity for business in the downtown corridor. These are all our neighbors and community members, and we saw value in looking at it from a variety of perspectives,” Myers said. “We felt that as an entity that prides itself on civility and dialogue we could bring people together and foster the conversation. Our goal is to help the community gain a clearer picture of all the pieces that come together in urban planning and development and how they fit into the picture.”

Myers said that she wanted to have a commercial developer discuss their role on the panel because sometimes commercial developers are villainized when they are simply in the business of going through the channels that exist to build something new. She also wanted people who were knowledgeable about historic preservation for the same reason.

“They can also be typecast as obstructionists, and I wanted someone who could speak to the value of preservation and visual standards to enhance a community,” Myers said. “The reality is there are developers who are shortsighted, and there are preservationists who are shortsighted, and public policy exists to sort of attempt to curb that. But recently our city council has overruled our architectural review board twice, and that signals that something isn’t working on the public policy side. I found that particularly intriguing and that really made me want to put all of these people in a room, without something specific to vote for or against, and have a conversation.”

Myers said that the city has several review districts which have certain standards for demolition and construction and that the panelists will talk about those areas.

“There are also gray areas including most of East Hill, sections of downtown, Belmont DeVilliers and the Westside Garden District that aren’t specifically protected en masse but might have individual places worth preserving,” she said. “And who does decide that? That’s one of the things we are going to talk about, definitely.”

Neighborhood walkability and non-profit development are also topics that will be discussed during the panel. Myers said that walkability is part of urban planning and is an indicator of the health of a neighborhood.

“From the policy side, enforcing policies that promote walkability or any other ‘value’ can be controversial because some developers see any restrictions as unduly burdensome,” she said. “Are they overly burdensome? That’s a question we will ask and attempt to find some answers to.”

WUWF included Tim Evans from Habitat for Humanity as a panelist because Habitat understands the needs in housing and they do development work in a different way from a commercial, profit-driven developer.

“We wanted to have someone who could discuss what development looks like from a more macro perspective and from a viewpoint of people who are sometimes left out of conversations about developing new construction,” Myers said.

The goal of this discussion panel, she said, is to get as many voices as possible engaged in the conversation.

“The balance between development and preservation is a question we are incredibly lucky to be able to discuss because Pensacola does have a rich history and the development that is taking place now speaks to a bright future and continued growth,” Myers said. “What does the balance look like? Well, that’s a question we are not alone in trying to answer, and I think other cities have come to conclusions that work for them. We will have to come to a conclusion that works for Pensacola.”

“Perspectives On Urban Development In Pensacola”
WHAT: A panel discussion hosted by WUWF
WHEN: 6-8 p.m. Monday, Aug. 28
WHERE: J. Earle Bowden Building, 120 Church St.
COST: Free
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ETAILS: wuwf.org