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Preservation Commission says corn tower is iconic

November 29, 2018

Members of Rochester’s Heritage Preservation Commission weren’t swayed by Seneca Foods Corp.’s argument against considering its water tower as a potential landmark property.

“It is an iconic landmark to Rochester,” commission member Barry Skolnick said, noting it is immediately recognized as part of the city.

Eight other commission members agreed Tuesday night in a unanimous vote to recommend the ear-of-corn water tower be moved to a list of potential landmark properties.

The commission received a letter on Monday from a Seneca attorney opposing the designation, noting the reasoning for the proposed designation falls short.

“If it were painted any other color, there would be no rationale for listing (it) on the potential landmark properties list, ” John Exner wrote in the letter from the corporation’s Janesville, Wis., offices.

“The functioning water tower fails to meet the criteria for character, interest or value as part of the development, heritage or cultural activities of the city of Rochester,” he added, citing the city’s heritage preservation ordinance.

Commission member Thomas Meilander said the painted design is part of what makes the tower “a piece of art,” but the structure is also an important symbol of Rochester’s agricultural heritage.

“Even if Seneca Foods were to move and close it all down, that still would represent part of a significant history for why Rochester is here,” he said.

Seneca recently shut down its canning facility at 1217 Third Ave. SE, and has sold off 71 acres of land near its frozen foods facility at 330 20th St. SE.

If the water tower does end up on the city’s potential landmark properties list, it will face a defined level of review for exterior changes, which has largely revolved around potential demolition.

“That’s the key thing we’re trying to do here,” Commission Vice Chairman Mark Carlson said of making recommendations for the list. “It protects from demolition.”

The commission had planned to designate the tower as a potential landmark property in 2017, but removed it when Seneca objected.

The potential landmark properties list was approved by the Rochester City Council on Feb. 22, 2017, but 30 challenged properties went without any designated protections.

“It was always the intent of staff to bring these properties on the so-called challenged potential landmark list back to the HPC to allow for more in depth review and input by the property owners,” said Brent Svenby, the city’s senior administrative analyst.

Tuesday, the commission reviewed the first six properties on the list, inviting comment from the owners.

Seneca sent the only letter in response to the request for comment, but Steve Flynn, director of Calvary Cemetery at 500 11th Ave. NE, was the only person to speak at the meeting on behalf of a property owner.

Flynn raised questions about what the designation would mean for the former St. John’s Cemetery, which was founded in 1874 before changing its name in 1940.

Citing plans to expand, he said the cemetery association worries about limitations and constraints that could conflict with religious guidelines. If the intent is to keep the cemetery in place, he said the association’s goals match the commission’s.

“I can promise you, it’s not going anywhere,” he said.

The commission opted to postpone a decision on the cemetery’s status until its Dec. 18 meeting to look at the intent of the designation for cemeteries and how it’s been handled in other communities.

The commission also postponed a decision on the McGoon’s/Goonie’s property at 7 Second St. SW after Svenby received a call from the owner, who asked for more time to consider a response since he was out of town when the commission’s notification arrived.

The only other communication discussed was Tuesday from the owner of the Bulbulian House, 1229 Skyline Drive SW, who reportedly cited objections to potential landmark status.

However, the commission unanimously chose to include the Bulbulian House, the Seneca water tower and two other properties — Assisi Heights, 1001 14th St. NW, and the Charles Sheard residence, 2217 Balsam Court SW — on its recommendation for the potential landmarks list. In addition, some buildings on Mayo Clinic’s St. Mary’s Hospital campus will be included for recommendation as potential landmark properties with the facility’s support, with other buildings, which are being challenged by Mayo Clinic, to be discussed at a future commission meeting.

Svenby said the proposed additions to the list will be presented to the council in January, and a public hearing will need to be held before action can be taken on whether to change designations for the properties.

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