Preservation consultants: Make process more proactive

A consulting group from St. Paul said the planning process for preserving historic sites in Rochester should be proactive, not reactive, in order to prevent some of the headaches the city has had in recent months with historic properties.

A consulting group from St. Paul said the planning process for preserving historic sites in Rochester should be proactive, not reactive, in order to prevent some of the headaches the city has had in recent months with historic properties.

"We've been sort of putting out fires at the moment," Anne Ketz, the group's CEO, told the city council during its committee of the whole meeting on Monday.

The 106 Group is tasked with creating an inventory of historic sites in Rochester and creating a preservation planning process for the city. So far, the group has preliminarily surveyed 200 properties in the downtown core. About 10 percent of those will go to a second phase to be fully evaluated as potential historic sites, said Nathan Moe, a planner with 106 Group.

In the past month, the group has had to fast-track analyses of the Kutzky and Conley houses at the direction of the Rochester City Council in order to decide whether the houses could be moved or demolished. The process should be much smoother and more proactive than that in the future, Ketz said.

"Preservation, by nature, is politically controversial," Ketz said. "Through planning, we can find a framework to address some of that controversy."


The city will need to work toward finding a distinction between what's old and what's historic, Ketz said.

"Just because something's old does not make it important in a preservation context," she said.

Ketz said the city will need to figure out what the goals for preservation are, how it's a part of city decision-making, how the preservation plan will fit in with the city's comprehensive plan, what it means to be on the preservation list and how the city council wants to be involved.

Jeff Allman, chairman of the Heritage Preservation Commission, which is tasked with creating the inventory of historic sites and preserving them, said the commission has not been able to effectively do its job.

"I would hope that the HPC would find its legs by now of where we do and don't have rights or a contribution to make," Allman said. "It seems to me that we've struggled with that … I'm not sure we've carried out the mission you've set out for us."

Allman said the commission hasn't always gotten the same information from developers as the city council does, so the outcomes often differ. Hiring the 106 Group should make the process less subjective, he said.

"I think we needed to go outside the community and hire professionals," Allman said. "We need some direction here. We're not getting it done by ourselves."

After the initial 200 properties are assessed, the consultants will turn toward 100 more properties within the city.


"That will be a good start," said assistant city administrator Gary Neumann. "That won't be a complete list. Down the road, you'll have to consider, as part of this, are you going to annually allocate some funding?"

For the preservation planning aspect of the project, the consultants will gather opinions from staff, the HPC and the general public. The city council ultimately will approve the planning efforts.

First, the 106 Group got a feel for Rochester and its history by researching and spending time at the History Center, Moe said. The group next will try to synthesize building trends and property types, while identifying where there might be gaps in research and historical documents, he said.

"Having that underlying context is the first step you should take," Moe said.

The group's analysis of the Kutzky and Conley homes was met with criticism from some community members, who said the consultants didn't understand Rochester's history or important figures in the area. While the 106 Group uses national and state registers and laws, they also consider local importance, Ketz said.

"We want to make sure this plan becomes an expression of your community," Ketz said. "This has to be something that works for Rochester."

Ketz said keeping pace with the rapid development in Rochester is another ongoing challenge.

"You are in a situation where there is a lot of economic vitality here," she said. "That does tend to clash with preservation principles in a way."


Council member Mark Bilderback said he hopes the group can give guidance on setting up policies and procedures that make sure developers give the same information to the HPC and the city council.

"We seem to have groups that feel they can bypass the HPC," Bilderback said. "If this is going to succeed … we need to have these groups going to the HPC and talking to them so they get a full story."

Several council members said they appreciated the objective approach to assessing historic preservation, which can be a loaded topic.

"You provide an independent voice for this process," council member Michael Wojcik said. "There's so much emotion tied with this."

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