Following a spate of demolitions this summer, Pensacola’s historic structures have been granted a reprieve from the wrecking ball — temporarily, at least.
City council members voted for the second and final time Thursday to implement a 180-day moratorium on the demolition of any structure more than 100 years old, with an exception for structures deemed unsafe. The move gives city officials time to reexamine the city’s historic preservation rules and determine if changes are warranted.
“This is not a stranglehold at all on development or redevelopment,” said councilman Brian Spencer, the sponsor of the moratorium. “This is ‘Press the pause button’ on one of America’s most historic cities.”
The moratorium comes after the high-profile demolition in July of the John Sunday House, a historically-significant 115-year-old home in Pensacola’s Tanyard neighborhood. Despite being located within one of the city’s five protected review districts, the home was demolished without going through the historic preservation process after a developer used a loophole to obtain a court order.
Weeks later, the historic West Hill Taxi Stand was razed without any review whatsoever, and a nearby historic home at 422 West Gregory Street, which dates to at least 1885, is now threatened by a redevelopment project.
One of the issues raised by historic preservation advocates is that the city’s review districts — within which demolitions require special approval — are almost exclusively located in historically white areas of the city. Historically African-American neighborhoods like the Tanyard and Belmont-Devilliers don’t enjoy those same protections, and both have been decimated by demolition and redevelopment over the past half-century.
The city’s planning board has been charged with reviewing the city’s existing rules and is expected to bring recommendations to the city council before the end of the 180-day period. One vocal opponent of the effort has been Pensacola mayor Ashton Hayward, who supported the demolition of the Sunday House and has characterized the moratorium as a “move to add new layers of bureaucratic review.”
The moratorium was approved on a 6-2 vote, with city council president Charles Bare and councilman Andy Terhaar opposing the measure.