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New development code passes first test amid some questions

Heritage preservation, public input and development changes were raised as concerns during the first of two public hearings related to Unified Development Code.

UDC pic.jpg
An image from a draft of Rochester's proposed unified development code shows some of the requirements proposed for building an accessory dwelling unit on an existing residential lot.
Contributed / City of Rochester
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ROCHESTER — Rochester resident Barb Hudson worries city efforts to protect historic properties could get lost in the proposed final draft of the city’s Unified Development Code, which faced its first official vote Wednesday.

“The ordinance that is combined with the UDC is not as easy to follow in this format as it was in the last ordinance that was rewritten a couple years ago,” said the former member of the city’s Heritage Preservation Commission.

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She told members of the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission that she worries a proposed shift of oversight in the new code could put potential landmarks in jeopardy.

The city currently has a list of properties defined as potential landmarks, which require added review by the Heritage Preservation Commission when exterior changes are proposed, but the new code would only spark a guaranteed review if a demolition permit is sought.

Other proposed changes would lead to a review by the city’s heritage preservation and urban design coordinator, and Hudson questioned whether that is enough.

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“It’s the planning department that’s going to determine whether this alters the historic value of the property,” Hudson said of a potential permit for exterior changes to a building on the city’s list. “That concerns me.”

Rochester Deputy Director of Community Development Ryan Yetzer said he understands adding the ordinance to the 448-page code could make it more difficult to access for some residents, but he pointed out maintaining separate sets of rules means requirements could get lost amid development plans.

“A major goal of this is to get the ordinance right in front of people,” he said, stating the UDC aims to put all zoning and development regulations in one document, so developers and residents know where to turn with questions.

Don Elliot, a director with Denver-based Clarion Associates, who helped craft the new code, said putting an initial historic review in the hands of a qualified staff member is standard practice in many cities, if the property hasn’t been officially designated as historic.

He said requiring a full commission review with any permit sought of a potentially historic process becomes burdensome.

“If you do that, there is no difference between ‘designated’ and ‘maybe designated,’” he said.

Yetzer said the proposed process calls for Molly Patterson-Lungren, the city’s heritage preservation and urban design coordinator, to review permits for anything short of demolition, if the property is on the city’s list of those waiting for commission review.

Lungren works directly with the Heritage Preservation Commission, and if she determines the proposed change would alter a property’s historic standing, she can call for a full commission review.

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Hudson was one of three Rochester residents who addressed the Planning and Zoning Commission on Wednesday during a public hearing before commission members voted unanimously to recommend approval of the new code.

Rochester resident Barry Skolnick cited a concern about dropping public hearings related to the approval of general development plans, but Yetzer pointed out that such projects will face earlier neighborhood meetings, as well as Rochester City Council review of final plats. He also noted that zoning changes will be reviewed if drastic changes of use are being considered.

Julie Leisen, of DeWitz Home Builders, cited opposition to plans to void existing special development districts, such as the Pebble Creek district in Northwest Rochester, which provides for a variety of residential housing options with special guidelines.

Yetzer said he’s talked to Leisen in the past and pointed out the new code will change zoning status but will still allow much of the development to continue as planned.

Addressing the concerns, as well as others that have been stated amid more than two years of code development, Yetzer said the goal is to raise development standards in the city, while also making the code more predictable.

Emma Miller-Shindelar, the city planner who spearheaded much of the community engagement for the new code, said the improved predictability comes with a reduction from 134 existing zoning districts to 21.

At the same time, she said, the rewritten code seeks to address issues that have restricted housing opportunities in the past.

“There are a lot of seemingly benign standards in the (current) zoning code, like minimum lot size, restricted single family districts and homeowner-only notice requirements, that contribute to systematic disparities,” she said. “The UDC, by eliminating or improving upon many of these standards, seeks to dismantle barriers that separate historically underrepresented communities from neighborhoods.”

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With Planning and Zoning Commission support, the Unified Development Code is slated for Rochester City Council review on Sept. 7.

If the code is approved, it is expected to be implemented in January.


What happened: The Rochester Planning and Zoning Commission unanimously voted to propose adoption of the new Unified Development Code.

Why does this matter: The code seeks to update zoning and development regulations by providing predictability for developers and city residents.

What's next: XThe Rochester City Council is slated to hold a Sept. 7 public hearing on the UDC before being asked to approve it.


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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