Downtown historic district returning to Rochester City Council for debate

Jan. 21—ROCHESTER — A

potential downtown commercial historic district

will return for Rochester City Council discussion on Monday.

"I think we talked about this ad nauseam," council member Mark Bransford said in December. "It's something we have to decide on."

The 32-property district was initially proposed by the city's Heritage Preservation Commission in 2019, but

council action has been delayed

by questions regarding

property owners' concerns

and potential incentives for preserving the 28 properties considered as contributing to the historic designation.

The proposed district is roughly bounded by South Broadway Avenue to the east, First Avenue Southwest to the west, Second Street Southwest to the north and Fourth Street Southwest to the south.

While the council hasn't acted on the proposed district, the Heritage Preservation Commission has added the 28 contributing properties to a list of potential landmarks needing additional review. It's a designation that owners of three buildings challenged last month.

"There is a higher level of significance and integrity needed to demonstrate an individual building should be rendered as (historic)," said Bob Heist, an attorney representing the owners of three buildings that sit on five lots between 309 S. Broadway to 317 S. Broadway.

The commission and council denied the request to remove the properties from the list of potential landmarks, but council members said it points to the need to revisit the recommended district.

"This has been a hairy deal for a couple years now," council member Kelly Rae Kirkpatrick said.

Council member Shaun Palmer cast the sole opposing vote when the council called to resume discussion on the proposed district, citing concerns about a

lack of incentives for property owners

who would face additional levels of review if they wanted to change the exteriors of their buildings.

Rochester Community Development staff provided the council a list of potential incentives last year, and City Administrator Alison Zelms said there is room for additional work to address specific property owners' needs.

"There is not alignment across all property owners about what is the incentive that would be valuable to them," she said.

In a report to the council, Molly Patterson-Lungren, the city's heritage preservation and urban design coordinator, outlined two options that could be added as incentives within the district.

She said a property tax abatement could be offered to the owners of the 28 buildings, which currently generate nearly $460,000 in city property taxes a year.

While an abatement could include the full amount of taxes for up to 15 years, the city staff proposal calls for a potential 10% abatement for up to 10 years.

To qualify, a property owner would need to agree to maintain the property as a historic building while getting the tax break.

The second option would create a revolving loan fund to provide up to $200,000 in 10-year loans without interest to owners of qualified properties in the district. The fund would be created by using $1 million from $50 million in economic vitality funds being generated as part of the recently approved sales tax extension.

Palmer said he opposes using the sales tax funds for incentives, since the option wasn't discussed before the issue went to voters for approval in November.

"I would not be willing to do that at all, because I don't see the economic incentives to do that," he said during the Dec. 11 council meeting.

Council President Brooke Carlson pointed out that the decision to resume discussions on the district does not determine the outcome of the issue.

Five of the seven current council members didn't take part in the initial 2019 discussions that put the issue on hold.

Council member Patrick Keane said it's time to determine where the council stands on the 2019 proposal, and details related to incentives and other opportunities of funding could continue to be discussed in the future.

"I don't think it's the time to start reworking this, but that's what we'll have to figure out based on the public hearing," he said.

The required hearing will allow property owners and residents on both sides of the issue to present the council with arguments for or against creating the proposed district. It's set to be part of the council's regular meeting, which started at 6 p.m. Monday in council chambers of the city-county Government Center.

Meetings scheduled to be held during the week of Jan. 22 include:

Rochester

—City Council, 6 p.m. Monday in council chambers of the city-county Government Center, 151 Fourth St. SE. The meeting will livestream at

www.rochestermn.gov/meetings/council-meeting

s and be available on Spectrum cable channel 180 or 188.

—Library Board Planning Committee, 11 a.m. Monday in the first-floor meeting room of the Rochester Public Library, 101 Second St. SE.

—Heritage Preservation Commission, 5 p.m. Tuesday in council chambers of the Government Center.

—Planning and Zoning Commission, 6 p.m. Wednesday in council chambers of the Government Center.

Olmsted County

—Rochester-Olmsted Council of Governments, noon Wednesday in conference room 186 at 2122 Campus Drive SE in Rochester.

—County commissioners meeting with local legislative delegation, 8:30 a.m. Friday in the second-floor conference room of the Olmsted Waste to Energy Facility, 301 Energy Parkway NE

Rochester Public Schools

—School Board, 5:30 p.m. Tuesday in the boardroom of the Edison Building, 615 Seventh St. SW.