Questions for candidates: What are your priorities for heritage preservation?
Rochester’s older downtown buildings can cause conflict between the goals of developers and preservationists. Candidates for Rochester City Council were asked what they see as priorities related to potential historic preservation in the city.
Here are their responses:
In conversations like this, full transparency is necessary. The cost of the property, the cost of preservation, the historical meaning and importance of the property are important pieces of dialogue. The majority of odds come into play because of cost.
When a place has significant meaning to our community, it is incumbent on our community to protect such places. However, the buildings need to be structurally safe and sound. Historic preservation can be expensive. If the taxpayers of Rochester are supportive, projects like this may require funding from the city.
I will make sure that all costs – financial and otherwise – associated with saving and protecting a building or property are known to the citizens before any action is taken.
The Heritage Preservation Commission (RHPC) has many goals. The main one is to recommend the preservation of properties that reflect the city’s cultural, economic, political, visual or architectural history.
Historic preservation works best when property owners agree with RHPC designations, and typically, this is the case. But we’ve seen our current commission split between property rights champions and at-all-costs preservation. One priority is that RHPC sends the council recommendations that are not the result of heavily split votes, which leaves the council the job of doing the RHPC’s assessment work all over again.
As much as any longtime resident, I want a Rochester that looks like Rochester. Another priority is that the city maintain its character but not become an authoritarian against property rights.
Can we value our past and still build the future? I strongly believe so.
Our No. 1 priority for preservation must be incentivizing, not mandating, preservation. The best way to move preservation efforts forward is to make preservation desirable to property owners.
A single lawsuit can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars while preservation incentives might be just a fraction of that amount. And a lawsuit is still no guarantee of success. Forced preservation is both too costly and too unpredictable.
The establishment of a clear historic significance threshold and pathways to partnership are the practical path for saving our past.
Keeping historical buildings and features should be important to Rochester, but I understand that new developments and businesses are key to Rochester’s growth. So there has to be an equal medium for both.
Aesthetically, it is nice to see older buildings that remind us of our past culture and beginnings. It also gives our city a historic “hometown” feeling.
On the other hand, new development is essential to growth and economic stability.
I think the key to appeasing both sides is admitting that some older buildings will eventually be gone. There’s no possible way to save them all and continue to see new, updated growth. But at that point, it’s important to prioritize what buildings are deemed historic to be preserved and productively used.
The community supports preservation of Rochester’s historic past. The city council established the Rochester Heritage Preservation Commission in 2013. Rochester Historic Preservation Commission is working with Minneapolis consultants Preservation Design Works to develop the plan for a Rochester Downtown Commercial Historic District.
As implementation is considered, the following needs to be reviewed:
• Clearly defining and discussing any proposed development code or zoning ordinance restrictions with stakeholders
• Impact on private property rights in creating ordinances establishing a local historic district
• Establishing appeal rights for property owners
• Understanding state and federal incentive tax credits and grant opportunities for property owners
• Acknowledging that establishing historic districts often leads to real estate appreciation and the DMC effects have already lead to increased property values
With many older buildings linked to the past in downtown and throughout Rochester, the goals of developers and preservationists are often at odds. What do you see as priorities related to potential historic preservation in the city?
There are buildings and places in Rochester that everyone agrees that make up the character of Rochester, not all of them are in the downtown. We need to aid the owners, so they can find resources to help keep the building historic. I do not believe that the city needs to own all of them.
We also need to enforce our current ordinances so that buildings do not become in disrepair and then the owner pleads that it costs too much to fix.