Changes Proposed for Composition of Preservation Board

Susan Askew
Susan Askew

Changes Proposed for Composition of Preservation Board:

Residency requirements, participation on preservation org boards up for discussion

Commissioner Joy Malakoff, in one of her first actions upon being appointed to fill a vacancy on the City Commission, is jumping right into the water with a proposal to change the composition of one of the City’s most powerful boards. The Commission’s Land Use and Development Committee will discuss her proposal this week for residency requirements and limits on preservation organization board participation for members of the Miami Beach Historic Preservation Board (HPB).
The HPB has seven members, two of whom are appointees selected by the City Commission from nominations by the Miami Design Preservation League and the Dade Heritage Trust. The Board also includes two at-large members “who have resided in one of the City’s historic districts for at least one year, and have demonstrated interest and knowledge in architectural or urban design and the preservation of historic buildings.”
Malakoff wants that requirement to include only at-large members who currently reside in a historic district and for at least one year prior to appointment. In a memo to her fellow Commissioners, Malakoff wrote, “As it now reads, the Code is so broad that it allows an at large member to qualify for appointment to the HPB if, at any time during that member’s lifetime, the member has resided in a historic district for a year. As with anything else, historic districts are neighborhoods, and neighborhoods change over time necessitating evaluation of new needs and priorities. I think it would be more productive to have the at large members be current residents of a City historic district (for at least a year).”
At the February Commission meeting where the referral to the Committee was discussed, Malakoff said, the way the Code reads, someone who “lived in a historic district 20 years ago, would be eligible” for the at-large seats. She said she believes it would be better to have residents who “know the problems and challenges of living in a historic district” in today’s environment.
With regard to the Miami Design Preservation League (MDPL) and Dade Heritage Trust (DHT) members, she wrote in her memo, “I continue to believe that this is critical, so that these two very important preservation societies have a voice on the Board. However, I think the HPB would be better served by limiting the MDPL and DHT membership categories to the two ex officio positions. Perhaps we can craft a simple requirement which would not allow the other 5 HPB board members to be either MDPL or DHT members during their term on the HPB. Again, I think this would encourage broader diversity on the Board and, as a result, also make the Board’s deliberations more productive.”
After concerns were raised about the prohibition on general membership in those organizations, Malakoff said at the Commission meeting that she was fine with saying they could be general members but not board members of either organization. 
Malakoff reiterated at the Commission meeting that she was not interested in doing anything “that weakens the power of the Historic Preservation Board. That was never my purpose nor was that what was proposed,” adding, “There is no intention to take the vote away from the two most important preservation organizations in the community.”
Limitations on the participation of board members of MDPL and DHT, she said, would “avoid the appearance of violations of the ethics ordinance, including the Sunshine Law” which prohibits members from discussing Historic Preservation Board matters unless in a public meeting.
Currently, Nancy Liebman, Jack Finglass, and Kirk Paskal who sit on the HPB are also MDPL Board members. Liebman and Finglass are at-large members who do not currently reside in a historic district. 
Commissioner Michael Góngora did not support the referral for discussion at the Land Use Committee.  “While I generally support everybody’s referrals, I know when this comes back [to the full Commission] I’m pretty much a hard no. I think our Historic Preservation Board has done a fairly good job of maintaining the historic and architectural integrity of our city.”
“While I know a lot of people don’t like the HPB, they find it difficult, they find it problematic, they find it oftentimes, I’m sure, incredibly time consuming and expensive, I think we get to a better project at the end of the day,” Góngora said saying he preferred to have “specialists, people that really understand our history and, hopefully, our future… I don’t think the Board is broken so I don’t want to fix it.”
Commissioner John Alemán, who chairs the Land Use Committee, said she was willing to discuss it given MDPL’s “special standing and privileges in the City that nobody else has other than a property owner and the Commission, which is that they can initiate [historic] designation of a property.” That designation can be initiated even when a property owner may not agree (as was the case initially with the International Inn in North Beach). 

The organization can also appeal decisions of the land use boards. 
“What concerns me is that right now there are three HPB members that are also Board members of MDPL,” Alemán said. “I’ve noticed the conflict that the MDPL Board could be referring things to the HPB board which is the same people so I think it’s worth talking about and exploring… it certainly appears that could be a problem.” 
Commissioner Micky Steinberg, a member of the Land Use Committee, said “I don’t love this second amendment” with regard to number of members of the MDPL or DHT Boards that could serve on the HPB but added, “I do think there’s merit to the first amendment, where members reside” calling it a “good cleanup” to have members who currently live in historic districts.  
She added, “I think it’s a fabulous board, one we don’t want to lose the integrity of.”
Mayor Dan Gelber said he wasn’t sure about Sunshine Law violations and he wasn’t bothered by whether or not members were part of MDPL but, he noted he was concerned by the dispute over control of the organization last year. In addition to its special standing, MDPL also occupies and manages a City-owned building at 1001 Ocean Drive which houses the Art Deco Welcome Center and Museum. 
“What concerned me this last year is we sort of lost control of the organization and that organization... I wouldn’t say [we’ve] given them some governmental responsibilities but we’ve come close to giving them governmental responsibilities,” Gelber said. “And when we don’t know who’s in control of the organization, we leave ourselves out there.”
“For a couple of months, I don’t know who was in charge of the organization and yet they have control over things that are [historically] designated,” Gelber added. “Who knows what could have happened so I actually wouldn’t mind figuring out our relationship with the organization but not for the issues you raised,” he said to Malakoff.
Referring to the disputed election in which large numbers of memberships paid for in cash came in the night of the election, Gelber said, “I don’t want an organization that for a certain amount of money you can join and control to be in control of things in the City. That’s not a democratic organization. That’s just a group of private citizens who’ve paid an entry fee. And they have control over City assets, that beautiful building [photo above]. And they also have input into official City positions in a way that no one else does so I want to make sure our relationship is right.”
Gelber said he would support the referral to Land Use but said he also wanted the Committee to include “a review of the organization so that maybe you guys can help us make sure that we’ve got the right set up for the City and I’d like you to look at the relationship of the structure itself because what worried me was a City structure was locked. People were locked out of a City building and that’s not your building and that’s not our building, that’s our residents’ building and that’s just intolerable so I’d like that to be looked at… even looking at the lease agreement that’s coming up this year and figure out if there are ways that we can control the building so that residents never lose control of a City asset.”
“When it comes back, if it’s just this,” he said of the Malakoff recommendations, “I’ll probably have a problem with it as a I know a lot of my colleagues will.”
MDPL Executive Director Daniel Ciraldo informed the Commission the organization is going to seek an early renewal of the management agreement for the building, emphasizing, “We all don’t want anything like what happened to happen again.”
“You have control of City property and we let you make appointments or nominations,” Gelber responded. “We give you the ability to make suggested designations and if that organization’s not controlled in a way that we feel is appropriate, we abdicate responsibility. [It’s] something we don’t control anymore which is pretty intolerable.”
MDPL Board president Jack Johnson said the disputed election “was because of provisions in the bylaws of the organization that allowed for a challenge to take place. We are currently in the midst of a complete review and rewriting of our bylaws for many reasons, one of which is to ensure that that never happens again.”
“I get that,” Gelber said. “We understand you guys are concerned. We can’t simply abdicate or delegate to you.”
Regarding Malakoff’s proposal, Johnson said, “I don’t think there’s any need for a change” to the HPB composition. “We do not allow the members of MDPL or of the Board who are also members of the Historic Preservation Board to be involved in any discussions at MDPL of items which are before or might come before the Historic Preservation Board.
The Commission voted 6-1 to refer the item to the Land Use Committee for discussion with Góngora voting no.
RE:MiamiBeach reached out to Liebman, one of the at-large members of the HPB and an MDPL Board member for her comment. She told us, “Joy [Malakoff] fought so hard to come back into the Commission and it amazes me that her first act of duty is to disrupt and disband people from the Historic Preservation Board. The Historic Preservation Board is not broken. It has served this city well for many years. The purpose of a historic preservation board is to have people who understand historic preservation, not people who happen to live in a historic district so I think that the criteria for preservation people are first their experience, their knowledge, and the fact that they want to preserve and protect the historic heritage of our community.”
Supporting Malakoff’s proposal are two residents of the Palm View Historic District, Jane Losson and Paul Freeman. The neighborhood is undergoing a review of its historic designation in light of flooding from sea level rise and what some residents say is a negative impact on property values due to the restrictions of historic designation thus discouraging necessary repairs, further depressing values, creating a downward spiral.

“I think Joy Malakoff’s initiative is dead on,” Losson said. “Nobody knows the challenges that people in a historic district face especially single-family homeowners until they’ve lived here. We have homes that date back almost a hundred years in this neighborhood so they have ancient plumbing, some of them are not that elevated. We’re of course on the canal which floods from time to time.”

“I applaud Joy and I certainly hope that her initiative passes,” she said.
Freeman said, "[H]aving dealt with the HPB in the past, it would be a positive to have members that live in a historic district.  Those who do not live in historic districts don't understand the issues and the burdens placed on owners in a district. Members that don't live in a historic district find it easy to regulate what doesn't affect them. I am not sure they would be happy with outsiders regulating their neighborhoods or condo buildings. My understanding is that the members of the HPB consist of members that are required to have certain backgrounds like architects and it would seem reasonable that the at-large members would be persons living in a historic district."

In addition to the two at-large members and the MDPL and DHT members, the HPB Board must include one member from each of the following categories:
  • An architect registered in the State of Florida with practical experience in the rehabilitation of historic structures;
  • An architect registered in the United States, a landscape architect, registered in the State of Florida, a professional practicing in the field of architectural or urban design or urban planning, each of the foregoing with practical experience in the rehabiltiatino of hist structures or an attorney at law licensed to practice in the United States, or an engineer licensed in the State of Florida, each with experience in historic preservation;
  • A member of the faculty of a school of architecture in the State of Florida, with academic expertise in the field of design and historic preservation or the history of architecture, with a preference for an individual with practical experience in architecture and the preservation of historic structures.

The Land Use and Development Committee meets Wednesday, March 6 beginning at 1 pm

Photo: Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau

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