Are Historic Structures Safe in Burns Court?

Todays News


With a classic Burns Square building all but demolished, historians want answers why the City of Sarasota did nothing to stop it.

Janet Minker, a Sarasota resident long-involved in preserving area architecture, was stunned to see a “renovation” of a structure on the 440 block of Burns Court look like a complete teardown. She posted a photo on Facebook in early March that quickly riled up architectural and historian voices in Sarasota. “Does this look like a renovation to you?” Minker wrote.

But city officials say while the Burns Court Historic District has a spot in the National Register of Historic Places, the property the home sits on is privately owned. Dr. Clifford Smith, Sarasota Historic Preservationist, said the building is a contributing structure in a national historic district.

“As such, the City has no review authority under the City’s current Zoning Code,” says city spokesman Jason Bartolone, “Further, federal guidelines state that a private owner has no obligation to restore or retain a building on the National Register, and they can do anything they wish to the structure as long as federal funds are not involved. “

Bartolone said the incident does show why the city’s Historic Preservation Board supports multiple zoning text amendments to strengthen protections of structures. One such amendment would impose administrative review on buildings like Burns Court houses.

“Such a change in the Zoning Code would allow City staff to review plans and determine whether those plans meet the standards for an historic building and suggest modifications so the historic nature is preserved,” he says. But such an amendment needs to go through the Development Review Committee, Historic Preservation Board, Planning Board and City Commission. Assuming the change wins approval each step of the way, the amendment would go into place in the fall.

Minker says she’s just frustrated the city didn’t work to stop this teardown.

“We can argue the technical points of permitting and codes all day,” she says, “but the city needs to stop playing games and start protecting Sarasota’s historic neighborhoods, Burns Court being the most important.”

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