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Silver Lake Park's history discussion focuses on dam and proposed changes

The Rochester Heritage Preservation Commission delays recommendation on park's landmark status to better define what is included in potential protections.

Silver Lake Dam
The Silver Lake dam took center stage Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022, during a Rochester Heritage Preservation Commission meeting to discuss the potential for designating Silver Lake Park as a historic landmark.
Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin
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ROCHESTER — A move to recommend designation of Silver Lake Park as a local historic landmark was delayed Tuesday to better define what would be protected.

“The shape of the lake is something I think should be clarified,” Dave Morrill, a member of Friends of Silver Lake Park, told the city’s Heritage Preservation Commission.

The commission was taking public comment as it considered a status recommendation to the Rochester City Council.

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Morrill and other advocates called for making sure the existing Silver Lake Dam remains in place near North Broadway Avenue, but others said a proposed dam modification is needed to provide a safe route under the Broadway bridge.

“The pedestrian and bicycle crossings on North Broadway at Silver Lake are among the most treacherous in the entire city of Rochester,” said Marty Cormack, an avid cyclist and Rochester park Board member.

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He said he doesn’t oppose designating the park as a landmark but wants to make sure there’s flexibility to address safety concerns as traffic on Broadway Avenue continues to increase.

The city is asking state lawmakers to approve $11.67 million in state borrowing for a project that starts with the requirement to dredge Silver Lake. The proposed project would also modify how the lake's water levels are controlled and expand the city’s trail system on the north side of the lake and create a pedestrian and bicycle bridge near where the dam now sits.

The proposal is stalled since state lawmakers ended this year’s legislative session without a decision on such projects.

Molly Patterson-Lungren, the city’s heritage preservation and urban design coordinator, said while the existing dam would be inside the proposed landmark park, it’s not considered a contributing factor to a potential designation, since it lacks historic integrity following updates.

Commission member Barry Skolnick, however, pointed out that a city consultant, Minneapolis-based New History, stated in a report that the presence of a dam at the location is a character-defining factor when considering historic status.

Commission members, while appearing to agree that the park should be a landmark, differed on the dam’s significance.

“We’ve kind of taken the whole conversation to one structure, and I’m not sure who we got there,” commission member Jeff Fague said, pointing to the ability to consider the dam as a separate entity.

Commission member Mark Hubly supported including the dam as a significant part of the park’s history, but also said the larger goal is preserving the footprint of the lake as much as possible.

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“Whatever goes into that area is probably going to need to be updated and improved,” he said of a potential dam modification.

The city’s proposal under Rochester Public Works would create a 750-foot engineered channel of cascading pools to control water levels in the lake.

Rochester project engineer Matt Crawford has said approximately 8 acres would be used for the project, which would reclaim some shoreline for added recreational paths and other potential lakeside features.

Between 26 and 46 acres of the lake would remain, depending on the figure used for the current lake size, but Rochester Parks and Forestry Division Head Mike Nigbur said a proposed master plan for the park would add approximately 2 acres to the lake in an area that was once used to store snow after streets were plowed.

Patterson-Lungren said the proposed designation of the park as a historic landmark won’t necessarily prevent any proposed changes to the park, but it would provide some guidance and additional oversight when changes are made.

“Making this a landmark will not prohibit alterations to the park,” she said, adding that she’s already been working with parks staff to determine where proposed changes could be modified to have “the lightest touch possible on significant features we’ve identified.”

Parks and Recreation Director Paul Widman said department staff support the proposed landmark designation amid proposals to add amenities to the park and alter some shoreline.

The designation would require added Heritage Preservation Commission review of any changes that require a permit, which would include land alterations, construction in the park and demolition of existing structures.

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With commission members divided on whether the dam should be singled out as a contributing factor to the park’s status, the commission opted to delay a decision to its October meeting.


What happened: The Rochester Heritage Preservation Commission delayed a decision on whether to recommend Silver Lake Park for historic landmark status.

Why does this matter: Landmark status would add some protections and oversight to proposed park changes being presented in a new master plan for the park, as well as a proposed project to modify how lake water levels are controlled.

What's next: The commission is expected to revisit the issue during its meeting on Oct. 25.


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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