Painted FL Building Owners Address Controversy

WEDNESDAY, MAY 8, 2024


The owners of a recently repainted historic building in Fort Myers, Florida, say that they “followed the necessary rules” in response to inquiries regarding the unauthorized work.

The 101-year-old building was painted over in April, despite a stop work order from city officials. Now, the fate of the structure’s brick façade awaits the decision of the Historic Preservation Committee later this month.

What Happened

Painting work reportedly started on the historic Richards Building on April 19, changing the original scheme to white paint with black trim. Gina Sabiston, Vice President of the Lee Trust for Historic Preservation, noticed the unauthorized work.

“I called city hall immediately and notified them that there was painting happening without a permit,” Sabiston said. “They went over immediately and issued a stop work order.”

However, despite the order, the painting continued throughout the weekend.

Sabiston noted that in cases like these, property owners often claim ignorance of the district's historic status. She pointed out that this was not the case for the owners of the Richards Building, who had previously engaged with the commission concerning changes to the windows of the property.

The work has reportedly led to confused reactions from the community, even from those who rent space in the building. Business owners within the building have also raised concerns, telling reporters that they are “fearful their operations could be affected if the city takes actions against the landlords.”

According to information provided by the city after a request from local outlet Fox 4, the owners of the building were found to have multiple other violations. In January, they were cited for unpermitted renovation work on the second, third and fourth floors.

The city had also issued a violation notice for an illegally installed sign alongside the new unauthorized painting violation.

Fort Myers Mayor Kevin Anderson said while it might not be possible to undo the work, the city is prepared to hold the owners accountable with potential fines or penalties. Additionally, he notes that city staff is determining whether it was an oversight or deliberate action.

The paint job will face the possibility of being removed, depending on the decision of the Historic Preservation Committee at a meeting on May 23. It was also reported that the owners’ attorney is a member of the commission.

Matt Plechan, who is president of Mineral Stains, the manufacturer who provided the stain for the project, said he found out about the stop work order after watching the news. Even though it will take harsh acids to remove, Plechan said the stain can be taken off without causing damage to the historic building. Additionally, the estimated cost would equate to about $20,000.

Owner Response

Michael Alessio, alongside his lawyer Sawyer Smith of Wilbur Smith Law, held a conference on Friday (May 3), with Smith defending the actions. However, when asked for clarification on the decision to continue work despite the stop-work order, Smith declined to comment and cited ongoing legal proceedings.

“Mr. Alessio and his team believe that the decisions made when using the mineral stain on the facade followed the necessary rules. This belief is marrow deep,” said Smith.

The city’s notices reportedly referred to the changes as “painting” rather than “staining,” which was how Smith referred to the changes throughout the conference.

Questions also arose regarding the previous unpermitted remodeling work, and Smith deflected these inquiries, emphasizing the investment being made by the Alessio family in preserving the building's historical significance.

According to reporters at the event, he disclosed that the family’s contributions would total over $2 million dollars, including the removal of the Richards Building sign, replaced by a Pythian Building sign.

Whitney Richards-Kearns, a descendant of the Richards family who the building was named after, expressed her disappointment over the alterations.

“I didn't have words, it was like a slap in the face to my family's legacy to see that it had been changed and to see the difference,” she said. “That beautiful red brick has been a hallmark of this building for a hundred years.”

Several people who were against the staining showed up to the press conference wearing the color red. However, this also included the Alessio’s attorney.

“The fact he showed up wearing red today felt like manipulation for those of us here supporting this beautiful classic architecture that he spoke so passionately about. The fact he showed up in red to seem like he was a part of the rest of us here to speak against it was really a slap in the face,” said Richards-Kearns.

In a statement read by Smith, Alessio expressed sadness over the community’s perception the renovations were disrespectful and said his family is committed to the community and their intention to preserve the building’s historic charm.

“There's no evilness at play here folks, there's no stainspiracy or staingate, only stainmania,” said Smith.

Additionally, Smith announced his intention to recuse himself from the issue at the upcoming HPC meeting, citing it as a conflict of interest.

   

Tagged categories: Brick; Color; Color + Design; Concrete stains; Good Technical Practice; Historic Preservation; Historic Structures; Laws and litigation; Lawsuits; Masonry stains; NA; North America; Program/Project Management; Projects - Commercial; Stains; Stains

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