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Rochester Church removed from potential city landmarks list

Heritage Preservation Commission has list of 104 properties on remaining list of potential landmarks.

Unitarian Universalist church.JPG
The First Unitarian Universalist Church is located at at 1727 Walden Lane SW in Rochester.
Contributed photo/City of Rochester
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ROCHESTER — The 1966 First Unitarian Universalist Church building doesn’t rise to the standard for being a potential city landmark.

Rochester’s Heritage Preservation Commission voted 4-2 Tuesday to grant a request to remove the church from a list of 105 properties on a potential landmark list.

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“The church has outlasted its useful life of 54 years of service,” 30-year church member Walt Rothwell said in presenting the congregation’s request to remove the church from the list.

The Rev. Luke Stevens-Royer said that doesn’t mean the congregation wants to demolish the building located at 1727 Walden Lane SW.

“I think our prime concern is flexibility,” he said, pointing to an extra layer of city review required for exterior changes to buildings on the potential-landmark list.

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He said the church was designed for 150 adult members, and the congregation now has 400.

The church’s congregation is expected to vote on future plans to meet needs of a growing membership, which could include moving to a different site or renovating the existing building.

Church member Dave Edmonson said the decision should be in the hands of the congregation he’s been part of for 35 years.

“We built this monstrosity,” he said of the building he called a challenge to upgrade and maintain. “We should have the right to remove it, if that’s what we decide.”

Heritage Preservation Commission Chairwoman Nancy Bergner, who helped research the building, said she understands the desire to address space needs, but care for the building’s history is important.

“I understand you’d want to move to a different building, but that doesn’t mean you have to tear it down,” she said, joining commission member Barry Skolnick in voting to deny the church’s request.

However, the majority of the commission members questioned whether the church’s nature warrants further review.

“We’d have a different feeling if it was built as intended,” commission member Tom Meilander said.

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Built by nationally known architect Victor Christ-Janer, the modernist-style building faced changes during its construction, including a reorientation of what was intended to be the front of the church.

Molly Patterson-Lungren, the city’s heritage preservation and urban design coordinator, said the commission’s discussion on the fate of the building points to a potential need to alter the city’s list of buildings.

“This discussion tonight shows why this is problematic,” she said, pointing out the city's list is uncommon when it comes to addressing potential protections of historic properties.

The change proposed would still protect the remaining 104 buildings from demolition without added review, but would limit oversight for other exterior modifications.

Skolnick voiced concern about the lack of oversight on buildings that could be historically significant.

“I’m worried about everything short of demolition being allowed,” he said.

Patterson-Lungren said a decision to change the list and any related protections would likely coincide with the intended approval of a Unified Development Code later this year.


What happened: The Heritage Preservation Commission granted a request to remove the First Unitarian Universalist Church from the city's list of potential landmarks,

Why does this matter: The change allows the congregation to continue discussions of potential changes to the site without an added layer of city oversight based on potential historic status.

What's next: The commission will continue discussion of potential changes related to the list of the remaining 104 properties on the citys list of potential landmarks.


Randy Petersen joined the Post Bulletin in 2014 and became the local government reporter in 2017. An Elkton native, he's worked for a variety of Midwest papers as reporter, photographer and editor since graduating from Winona State University in 1996. Readers can reach Randy at 507-285-7709 or rpetersen@postbulletin.com.
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