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posted: 4/21/2017 6:00 AM

First master-planned community dates back to 16th century

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A small seaside town in Florida, founded in 1565, still influences the way that nearly every American city is configured today.

Q. My brother lives in St. Augustine, Florida. He boasts that it was the first master-planned community in America, but I looked it up online and can't confirm it. Can you?

A. Most historians agree that the lovely seaside town of St. Augustine (pop. 13,000) did indeed become the first master-planned community in North America when it was founded by the Spanish in 1565.

The fledgling town was laid out by following a document known as the "Law of the Indies," a lengthy set of rules that the Spanish Crown issued to guide development and other issues in its American and Philippine possessions. A key tenet of the document mandated that a common area -- the predecessor of the modern-day town plaza -- be built in the center of the community so "there will always be sufficient space where the people may go to for recreation and take their cattle to pasture without them making any damage."

The Law of the Indies also stated that the colonists "shall try as far as possible to have the buildings all of one type for the sake of the beauty of the town," not unlike the architectural restrictions that many cities and independent homeowners association impose today. It also tended to group businesses such as slaughterhouse and tanneries, in more secluded areas where the rubbish and filth they produced could "easily be disposed of" -- very much the way that most cities zone parts of their areas for industrial purposes during the modern era.

St. Augustine was routinely sacked by pirates during its first century of existence, and the city was rebuilt with the Law of the Indies after it was virtually burned to the ground by British armed forces in 1702. St. Augustine and the rest of the Sunshine State were ceded to the United States through the Adams-Onis Treaty of 1819, a pact often referred to as the "Florida Treaty" or "Transcontinental Treaty."

Real estate trivia: Researchers at the National League of Cities scoured public records and found that 10,866 U.S. thoroughfares are named either "Second Street" or "Second Avenue." That trumps the 9,898 that are called "First Street," in part because a city or town's primary roads are instead called "Main" or "Broadway."

Q. We hired a contractor to remodel our kitchen. He did only half the work before he filed for bankruptcy and skipped town. Can we deduct the $6,000 we paid him as a "casualty loss" on our income-tax return? How about the additional $5,000 we had to pay a second contractor to finish the job?

A. Sorry, but the answer to both of your questions is "no."

Homeowners generally cannot take a tax write-off for shoddy workmanship or the subsequent cost of doing the job right. You conceivably could deduct the $6,000 you made to the first contractor as a "fraud loss," but only if you could prove to the Internal Revenue Service that the wayward contractor intentionally set out to rip you off.

Though the combined $11,000 you paid likely won't provide a hefty deduction on your upcoming tax return, you can add the entire amount to the cost-basis of your home to reduce or even eliminate any taxes you may owe on the profit when you eventually sell.

Q. Is an actual cash value homeowners insurance policy the same as a replacement cost policy?

A. No. An actual cash value policy pays to replace only your home and possessions after a fire or other calamity -- minus a deduction for depreciation -- up to the limits of the policy itself. A replacement cost policy is more thorough, because it will pay to replace any items that were lost or stolen without any depreciation deductions.

To illustrate, let's say a small fire destroyed your 3-year-old washing machine and dryer. If you had an actual cash value policy, the insurer would factor in the age of the appliances before cutting a check. The amount probably wouldn't cover the entire cost of buying new ones.

If you had a replacement cost policy instead, the insurer would pay the entire cost of replacing the burned-up appliances with new ones of comparable quality. No depreciation deductions would cut into your reimbursement check.

Because replacement cost policies offer more protection, says a spokesperson for the nonprofit Insurance Information Institute (www.iii.org), they usually cost about 10 percent more than cash value policies.

• For the booklet "Straight Talk About Living Trusts," send $4 and a self-addressed, stamped envelope to David Myers/Trust, P.O. Box 4405, Culver City, CA 90231-4405. Net proceeds will be sent to the American Red Cross.

© 2017, Cowles Syndicate Inc.

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