New Manatee County ordinances could be too late for 'Beth Salem' house

skennedy@bradenton.comJune 10, 2014 

MANATEE -- County officials are working on new ordinances to protect historic buildings and provide tax relief for owners, but it may be too late for the 118-year-old "Beth Salem" house.

The house, among the oldest in Manatee County, is slated for demolition after the Manatee County Commission approved a plan Thursday for construction of a RaceTrac gas station/convenience store at 3004 53rd Ave. E.

Ward Reasoner, representing the Reasoner Family Partnership Ltd. for RaceTrac Petroleum Inc., told commissioners family members loved the gracious old home and tried to save it, but it is a financial burden they could not continue to carry.

"We need encouragement for property owners," said Cathy Slusser, director of historical resources for the Manatee County Clerk of the Circuit Court and Comptroller's Office. "A tax incentive is the main one that would help."

County planners are preparing an ordinance granting historic homeowners a tax incentive that freezes property taxes, she said.

"No matter how they invest in the historic building, it doesn't increase the taxes for 10 years," she said. "Maybe they're paying several thousand a year in taxes. They can recoup some of that money that they would have spent in taxes to help with the cost of restoration."

Reasoner told commissioners a tax waiver would have helped save his family's Florida Victorian-style house, which sheltered his relatives for decades and was a place of business for the state's oldest nursery.

County officials have been drawing up legal documents for a tax waiver system, but it may take six months before anything official is considered by the county commission, County Planning Manager Kathleen Thompson said Monday.

A new ordinance to declare the county a "certified local government" is also is being drafted, she said. It would allow voluntary historic designation of local properties and could provide legal protections that do not exist now, she said.

The county commission could decide on that measure sooner, perhaps by August, Thompson said.

Sarasota County has been part of the "certified local government" program since the 1990s and has an ad valorem tax exemption ordinance, said Lorrie Muldowney, manager of Sarasota County Historical Resources.

The latter is for properties historically designated and then rehabilitated.

"The county allows an exemption on the ad valorem taxes attributed to the improvement for a period of up to 10 years," said Muldowney.

She gave as an example a property owner who invests $10,000 in a project already reviewed and approved in advance. After the restoration, say the property increases in assessed value by $100,000, the owner can apply for an exemption in ad valorem taxes.

"It's important that people understand the increase in value for a period of 10 years is waived for ad valorem taxes only," she said.

Such an arrangement would have come in handy for Paul and Mary Gillespie, who rescued a 127-year-old Terra Ceia home from demolition when they bought it two years ago.

The parlor of the house, called the Hallock-Abel House, was the site of the first classes for local children, according to oldtimers.

Acknowledging he spent much more money on restoration than he intended, Paul Gillespie said it still was worth the effort.

"I think it's important we preserve as many of these historic homes as possible. They've stood the test of time," he said. "The house stood 130 years on that spot and was in excellent shape. I think it's important the county and the state try to put some guidelines in place for restoring and keeping as much of the history as possible."

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter@sarawrites.

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