Delray Beach Group Aims To Preserve Historic Homes

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By: Marisa Herman Associate Editor

A group of Delray history-lovers have teamed up to come up with ways to protect the city’s oldest homes and buildings.

During a recent city workshop meeting, their ideas were proposed to commissioners to consider implementing.

The goal is to encourage property owners to designate their homes as historic. The city has several historic properties and districts on the local and national level. The task force wants the city to promote the concept even more.

To do so, the task force proposed strengthening some of the city’s current rules, adding new rules and creating incentives to encourage property owners to go through the designation process.

Ideas include expediting the permit process, asking the county to extend its tax abatement program from 10 to 20 years and provide grants to those who qualify for financial assistance.The tax abatement is typically awarded to homeowners who plan to improve their historic property, but not everyone can afford to do so.

Historic designation can limit what upgrades or improvements can be done on a property. One of the main reasons why people tend to hesitate when it comes to designating their home is because any future modifications to the home will go before the Historic Preservation Board and may be held to a different standard than a non-designated home.

In Delray, homebuilders have purchased old, historic homes that are typically situated on bigger lots and demolished them to build newer, modern, larger homes. Task force members said that has happened on North Swinton Avenue. They want to prevent that from happening by putting more teeth in the city’s demolition by neglect ordinance.

Task force member Carolyn Patton said the idea is to keep the homes in place with affirmative maintenance.

In addition to North Swinton, the task force said Frog Alley is another area that has 77 properties eligible to be designated. Only one property, St. Matthews Episcopal Church is listed on the registry.

If the commission adopts the proposed incentives, the task force said it will hit the streets to educate homeowners about the benefits of historic designation.

“This is probably one of the most important aspects of our town,” Commissioner Shelly Petrolia said of the city’s historic homes. “It’s what people are attracted to. It’s something we have that a lot of cities up and down the eastern coastline do not. It makes us unique and it makes us stand out.”

She said she wants to see the city protect its structures, some that date back 100 years.

Board members said Old School Square is slated to become the city’s second national historic district. The Marina Historic District has already received that recognition.

They are looking into ways to extend that to other parts of the city, which was supported by commissioners. Any rule changes will go before the city for consideration for a first and second public hearing before becoming law.

“I love that Delray is trying to preserve its history,” Commissioner Shirley Johnson said.