As the debate over the demolition of Pensacola’s 115-year-old John Sunday House continues, it’s worth taking a look at what the city’s code of ordinances says about tearing down historic structures.
“Demolition of a contributing structure constitutes an irreplaceable loss to the quality and character of the Historic District and is strongly discouraged,” says section 12-2-10(9) of the code. “Therefore, no permit shall be issued for demolition of a contributing structure unless the owner demonstrates to the board clear and convincing evidence of unreasonable hardship.”
The provision, however, applies only to the Pensacola Historic District, the North Hill Preservation District and the Old East Hill Preservation District. Historically African-American neighborhoods like the Tanyard or Belmont-Devilliers don’t have historic district protections, and the Governmental Center District, in which the Sunday House is located, isn’t subject to this section of the code. Regulations for the Governmental Center District do still require approval by the city’s Architectural Review Board for demolitions, however.
The section further recommends a six-month moratorium on historic structure demolitions. “In the event that the board recommends a six-month moratorium on the demolition, within the moratorium period, the board shall consult with the Historic Pensacola Preservation Board, the city of Pensacola and any other applicable public or private agencies to ascertain whether any of these agencies or corporations can preserve or cause to be preserved such architectural or historically valuable buildings,” the code reads.
Despite the Architectural Review Board’s move to table a decision on the Sunday House’s demolition for 60 days, city officials moved this week to take the unprecedented action of sidestepping the board and issuing a demolition permit. An appeal of that decision is currently pending before the city’s Zoning Board of Adjustment, which is set to meet June 15.