We were required to file our plans for approval from the city-appointed Historic Preservation Board. Everything in our presentation to the board seemed in order, I thought, but we were denied our request.
The sticking point was our plan for a 16-foot-wide garage door leading to our rear alley. For some reason, codes for the historic district allow just a maximum of a nine-foot door.
We exercised our right to apply for a variance with the city commission, and after two commission meetings (and our own Commissioner Art Woodruff getting a first-hand experience of the impracticality of such a requirement for a nine-foot door), we were granted a variance.
In another example of historic codes, a neighbor decided he wanted to install a porch railing where there had not been one before. The new railing he installed – without city approval – was attractive and functional. Unfortunately for him, his new railing was not considered "historically accurate" by the HPB.
So, under threat of a fine, he took the railing down and threw it out. His front porch still stands today without a railing.
My point is not necessarily to condemn the HPB or historic codes. You don't have to go too far in the downtown area to find someone who would do that.
I actually like having a board that can give advice and perspective on things historical.
But I'd like to challenge those entities to adopt a wider view of what history and architecture really means, and have them understand that historic preservation just for the sake of preservation isn't ideal.
Just because an architectural feature or style is considered "historic" does not mean it is worth preserving.
And really, there are some parts of our history that shouldn't be preserved, outside of museums or educational centers. Thankfully, there aren't any more public restrooms marked "Whites Only."
A nine-foot garage door might have been adequate 100 years ago, but even my 1992 Honda Accord couldn't pull through it from the alley without doing a five-point turn. Today’s vehicles are big, so should modern day standards be compromised for the sake of historic preservation? I don't believe so.
After all, even in our dear old city, shouldn't we realize that in 2008 we're still making history? A hundred years from now, do we want residents to look back at our "turn of the 21st century homes" and see a movement derelict of its own originality and integrity?
One thing is for sure: Our forebears who settled the land on the southern shores of Lake Monroe didn't take a historical perspective when making their first homes. They didn't look back to the late 1700s and use Seminole Indian chickees for design cues and guidelines.
Rather, they built with practicality, frugality, current technology and availability of materials in mind. And they made many fine houses!
Shouldn't those be the most important guidelines for construction today, especially given today's economic climate and "green" emphasis, as well as our technological advances?
Are those who strive for strict adherence to historical codes bold enough to regard those aspects of construction and architecture as less important than historical preservation?
Are they willing to ignore the needs of today just for the sake of historic preservation?
Please know that I love our old homes and neighborhoods, and I love to see them preserved as beautiful examples of our past architectural heritage.
They are the reasons we and thousands of others choose downtown Sanford as our home.
What's interesting to me is that many of these homes were preserved a century before a "preservation board" was established. To me, that fact reflects the desire of the community itself to preserve its history on its own. Nobody is going to just come in and raze homes. There's no motivation for it.
Maybe its time to change the function (and name) of the Historic Preservation Board to something such as the Historic Awareness Board, and step back to look at the guidelines from a broader perspective.
Cary Hays is a cartographer. Comments can be sent to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or Herald publisher Gene Kruckemyer at GKruckemyer@MySanfordHerald.com. Topics for The Sanford Herald’s Centennial Forum opinion series are chosen by the community writers.