To protect landmarks, local is better than national
A few years ago, a local landmark in Pinecrest was listed by the United States Department of the Interior on the National Register of Historic Places—a first important step in protecting a local landmark. However, National Register listings are mostly symbolic and protection of the property is not guaranteed. Properties are not protected in any strict sense by the Federal listing.
Historic landmarks give a community a sense of place, identity and stability and provide numerous economic benefits as well. Being listed on the National Register of Historic Places, a program administered by the National Park Service to recognize historic places worthy of preservation, bestows a certain level of prestige for a historic site but very little protection from demolition.
There are approximately 175 sites in Miami-Dade County listed on the Register. However, the best way to protect an important site is to designate it historic in the city or county where it is located. In Miami-Dade County, ten out of thirty-three municipalities have a local ordinance and the rest of the cities are included under the County ordinance which provides a careful and thorough process for designating properties as historic, and thus protects them from inappropriate changes or demolition. An example recently in the news is the 1926 Dade County Courthouse. It is listed in the National Register which does not prevent demolition but it is also designated in the City of Miami, which does prevent demolition. There is an appeal process but it is subject to very strict guidelines and standards, making it difficult to demolish our landmarks.
In 1981, following a statewide mandate, Miami-Dade County created its preservation ordinance and allowed cities to opt out by creating their own ordinance, procedures and board. Coral Gables, Hialeah, Homestead, Miami, Miami Beach, Miami Shores, Miami Springs, Opa-locka, South Miami and Sunny Isles Beach did so. Coral Gables was one of the pioneers in historic preservation and today, the city has a significant local historic designation process that strengthens the economy of the city by enhancing property values because of the beauty and stability that result from caring for the heritage of a place. The designation of the Art Deco District in Miami Beach led to major renovation and economic revitalization.
Why would a property owner want his/her property designated as historic? There is ample evidence that historic designation leads to enhanced property values which improves marketability and may enhance its financing options. This is especially evident in historic neighborhoods where pride of ownership leads to well-cared for places with strong community values. Designated properties can enlist the aid of professional preservation staff to help with planning and executing restoration work and alterations or additions to historic buildings. Historic properties may be granted some flexibility in meeting building code requirements and there are several types of tax benefits that may be available. Preserving a historic building is preserving energy as well because it saves all the energy it took to create the building in the first place and reduces the amount of rubble in local landfills. Can you imagine how many truck loads of debris are being generated by the demolition of the Miami Herald building?
There is much misinformation about what historic designation means and how it affects the property itself. Designation does not freeze a property in time and prevent alterations and even major additions. It does, however, provide for maintaining standards of work, which will respect the historic integrity, and it requires the guidance and approval by the historic resources department in the respective jurisdictions. Many owners of historic properties will tell you that this is a good thing and has been of invaluable aid to them. The end result, added value in our overall quality of life as well.
The Historic Preservation Association of Coral Gables is a 501c3 non-profit founded in 1991. The Association promotes the understanding of the importance of historic resources and their preservation. For more information, please visit www.historiccoralgables.org