The Florida Master Site File: A List For All Persuasions

At least a decade ago the City of Sarasota began a phased survey of its building stock to establish an inventory of historic resources (both actual and potential).  This occurred in connection with the adoption of a historic preservation element within the City’s Comprehensive Plan, which set out as its goal “to identify, document, protect, preserve, and enhance all cultural, historic, architectural, archaeological resources of the City.”

The structures on the completed inventory list were systematically submitted for inclusion on the Florida Master Site File (“FMSF”), which is the State’s “official inventory of historical cultural resources.”  Structures listed on FMSF may be eligible for national or local historic designation, but inclusion on the FMSF does not automatically restrict a property owner’s ability to redevelop or renovate.  Any restrictions are the purview of local authorities.  And, an “owner is not required to approve inclusion in the [FMSF] inventory, [although] neither the owner’s name nor interior information on buildings is required on [FMSF] recording forms.”

Division of Historical Resources FMSF Link

Under the City of Sarasota’s zoning code, certain restrictions exist if a structure is listed on the FMSF.  So, by unilaterally filing a recording form with the State for each structure on its inventory list, the City was able to methodically create a population of buildings for which a hurdle exists should the owner wish to modify, or demolish, the structure.

An owner wishing to demolish a FMSF-listed structure will be required to file the usual demolition application, but the City’s neighborhood and development services department must then conduct a historic review “to determine if the structure is a contributing building to a historic district, eligible for local or national designation or if there are any viable alternatives to the demolition of the structure.”  If a structure is noncontributing, or not eligible for designation, then “the neighborhood and development services director may authorize demolition.”

If the structure meets the criteria for local or national designation, or contributes to a historic district, then a demolition permit “shall not be issued…until [City staff] has issued the historic review, which shall include an evaluation prescribing what measures are required to avoid, minimize, or mitigate the adverse effect on the historic resource.”  Mitigation – as the term is used by the City – “may require the applicant undertake all reasonable measures to save the resource on site or relocate the building.”

The reason this should be of interest to property owners and Realtors alike is that the City’s FMSF inventory is extensive – the following link sets out in detail the large number of FMSF structures within the City limits:

City of Sarasota FMSF Link

In many cases, property owners are not aware that their property is on the list.  These days, with the search for suitable building lots reaching a fever pitch, FMSF status is typically discovered once the property is under contract for sale, or after closing when the buyer applies for a permit – whether for demolition or otherwise – and their application comes to an immediate halt pending staff review pursuant to the ordinance.

And, one cannot assume just because a structure is newer (i.e., 40’s or 50’s vintage), or of questionable provenance, that it is automatically NOT subject to FMSF listing.  On the contrary, the City’s list reveals a large number of non-contributing, non-eligible structures that – for reasons of age, proximity to other structures, adjacent or potential districts, and so forth – have landed on the FMSF list, and are therefore subject to at least one additional layer of review when a permit is sought.

The simplest way to avoid the hiccups inherent in this situation is to refer to the City’s FMSF list up front when taking a listing or researching a potential acquisition.  If it turns out the structure is listed, you will then want to contact the City’s historic preservation specialist (Dr. Clifford Smith, Senior Planner-Historic Preservation, [941] 365-2200, ext. 4361) to schedule a site review to understand options and next steps.

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