Sometimes improving technology to save resources can be a challenge in a city like St. Augustine, even when it comes to the style of garbage cans.
The city’s Historic Architectural Review Board guards the architectural character of buildings in historic downtown with Architectural Guidelines for Historical Preservation.
The commission-appointed board reviews things like construction projects and decides whether to approve certificates of appropriateness, demolitions and other efforts.
The north side of St. George Street, a popular tourist destination, is home to more than 40 wood-framed trash cans, said Todd Grant, deputy public works director.
Grant, who is also the city’s sustainability program officer, recently pitched the idea to replace those cans with about 20 solar-powered compacting trash and recycle bins.
They hold up to about five to eight times more than a regular garbage can. They send out an alert when they’re full. And they won’t have the oozy messiness that the current garbage cans experience after getting packed with ice cream and topped with gum.
They would cost up to $6,000 a piece depending on whether they’re purchased or leased. Bottom line: The city wants to reduce staff time needed to empty the trash cans daily, reduce fuel use from pickups and better manage waste, Grant said.
The problem from HARB’s perspective: They don’t fit the historic look of the town.
“I just think these things are inappropriate for a historic district just by way of their design or look,” HARB Chair Toni Wallace said at the board’s November meeting. “Not that I’m against solar — I think it’s a wonderful idea to be able to compact the trash and do it with a solar mechanism. But these things are so ugly.”
HARB sometimes has to proceed with caution when dealing with modern features, such as solar panels, because they have to guard the architectural character of the city.
“A lot of these features are just so obviously modern that it’s hard to blend them in,” said Paul Weaver III, former HARB member.
People have, for instance, asked for leniency in requirements to use wooden shingles so that they can use less expensive and more efficient shingles. Weaver has stood against those efforts because other shingles wouldn’t fit the type of historic buildings being considered.
“You have to be really careful … it kind of opens the door, and you’re always afraid of the precedent,” Weaver said.
The board delayed its decision on a certificate of appropriateness for the trash cans, but they’ll get another look at the issue at its meeting today.
The trash cans are just one part of the city’s efforts toward greater sustainability, which has to do with preserving natural resources for everyone. That can include reducing energy use and costs, saving paper, reducing fuel use and running the city more efficiently.
The city’s been doing these things for years, including adding solar panels to parking pay stations and using LED lights, officials said. Grant said he’s also gotten pushback about LED lights because their tone is not warm enough, not historic enough.
Grant is now working on a sustainability plan for the city, an effort that kicked off in November. He’s also working on getting refillable water stations placed around town.
Commissioner Leanna Freeman, who has supported the effort, said she’d like to see commission meetings go paperless, and she’d like the city to encourage businesses to voluntarily stop using plastic bags. Other possibilities include having electric car chargers in the city and recognizing efforts of organizations and people to be more sustainable.
As for the high-tech garbage cans, she echoed a statement from Grant: Places older than St. Augustine use them, including Copenhagen.
“I’m hoping that we can make some progress there in the balancing act of moving forward into this century but also not being offensive to the historic [character],” Freeman said.