Council: Commission controls potential landmark list

January 9, 2019
File photo (2011): The “Ear of Corn” water tower at the Seneca Foods plant on the city’s southeast side is one of the winners of ten Rochester Heritage Preservation stewardship awards.

Designating Seneca Foods’ corn cob water tower — or any property in the city — as a potential landmark doesn’t require Rochester City Council approval.

That was the council’s verdict Monday before it even had a chance to open a public hearing on a list of 11 properties recommended for potential landmark status by the Heritage Preservation Commission.

“Overall, the idea of a potential landmark property is to give a holding list of properties we think may be historic that deserve further review,” Council Member Nick Campion said. “It is not intended to be a significant burden of the property owner. It’s mostly for internal housekeeping by the HPC.”

The commission has been reviewing a list of 30 properties as recommended additions to the city’s current list of approximately 60 potential landmarks. In November, it unanimously approved sending the list of 11 properties to the council for review.

The recommendation wasn’t required under the city’s heritage preservation ordinance, which gives the commission the authority to add or remove properties from the list. According to the ordinance, the council would only become involved if a decision is challenged.

Champion said Monday’s council decision wasn’t based on the merits of any of the recommended properties. Rather, he said the goal was to follow the process outlined in the 2017 ordinance.

He said part of the reasoning is due to the limited impact of “potential landmark” status.

City Attorney Jason Loos said he agreed with Campion’s assessment of the situation, noting the list of potential landmark properties is considered a holding place for properties that could be reviewed at a later date.

“To go through a full-blown investigation is several thousand dollars,” he said. “It would be cost prohibitive to go through it with every one of these properties.”

The commission has been working to identify which properties on the existing list should be prioritized for evaluation.

Additionally, a property could move up the list for review if its owner decides to challenge the status or seeks a demolition permit or building permit to make significant changes.

If such a change is sought, the city council would have 60 days to make a final determination on the historical status of the property.

Monday’s decision means the Heritage Preservation Commission will have the opportunity to consider adding the properties to the list during its next meeting.

“There’s no decision about the preservation status of those properties this evening, but reading the tea leaves, it sounds like (commission members) are supportive of that,” Campion said.

Commission Chairwoman Christine Schultze said she expects the group to consider the issue during its next meeting 5 p.m. Jan. 22. She also noted it could add other properties to the discussion.

The decision, however, does not offer a response to a request made last week by a Seneca Foods representative, who recommended donating the iconic corn cob tower to the city for eventual removal from the property at 1217 Third Ave. SE.

City Administrator Steve Rymer said that proposal would be the subject of a future council discussion.

“We understand the value of the corn tower to the community,” he said.

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