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Mayor Richards Launches a Full Scale Assault on Preservation

July 30th, 2012

Mayor Thomas Richards has launched a full scale assault on preservation in Rochester. Tommy says,
It had been assumed among some preservationists that Mayor Thomas Richards was directly responsible for pressuring the Zoning Board and Planning Commission prior to their respective votes to allow the demolition of the historic Cataract Brewhouse. That was the unofficial word coming from people inside City Hall, and it’s no secret that big business executive types like to stick together. Now, after the dust from that battle over preservation has finally settled, and the rubble has been cleared away, the Mayor is affirming those assumptions and declaring all out war on preservation.

Richards and his Director of Planning & Zoning, Marcia Barry, have proposed significant changes to the City’s zoning code. And if approved by City Council, these changes will take certain powers away from the Preservation Board — simultaneously giving unprecedented authority to the Zoning Board. Overall the proposed changes take the ‘teeth’ out of Rochester’s preservation laws, and make it much easier to demolish Designated Buildings of Historic Value. In fact, it’s safe to say if the Mayor gets his way, we can all expect to see more parking lots — and less restoration projects.

Rochester’s zoning code is quite clear about what constitutes ‘just cause’ to demolish a historic building. A demolition of a historic building, for instance, cannot negatively alter the physical environment or change the historic character of the area. The need to demolish the building must “not be self-created.” And there must be “NO other remedy.” These words can’t be interpreted any other way. This ex-lawyer Mayor external link knows this. But when voting in the case of Cataract, the Zoning Board blatantly ignored these laws (as Howard Decker pointed out external link on his blog and in his public testimony).

So to make certain these pesky historic preservation laws are not an impediment for him or his business partners again, Mayor Richards and his Director of Planning & Zoning have proposed significant changes to them.

[ Help Stop This Assault on Preservation ]

The proposed changes can be downloaded here…
Proposed Landmark Designation changes [PDF]
Proposed Area Variance changes [PDF]
Proposed Special Permit changes [PDF]

And these are the highlights…

  1. LANDMARK DESIGNATION: City residents can no longer propose a Landmark (unless you own it). Only City Council, the Planning Commission, the Preservation Board or the property owner can propose Landmark Status for a building.
  2. LANDMARK DESIGNATION: Landmark status cannot be proposed after the Zoning Board has voted to waive the design standards for a Designated Building of Historic Value. So if the Zoning Board were to allow the demolition of a historic building, the Preservation Board would have to stand silently by and watch. Does that make any sense??
  3. AREA VARIANCES: Currently six key conditions must be met in order for the Zoning Board to grant an area variance and allow demolition of a Building of Historic Value. This would change so that the Zoning Board only need to “consider” these conditions. The standards themselves are still there, but have now been reduced to mere suggestions only. If inconvenient, they can be ignored!
  4. SPECIAL PERMITS: These changes seem to be relatively minor clarifications of existing code. I’d even give the City a point or two for eliminating “parking spaces” as an “essential public service.”

If you have some stake in the business of preservation in Rochester (or you just enjoy historic architecture), you better suit up and grab your battle gear. If these code changes face little or no opposition, the Mayor’s next move will undoubtedly be to start paring down the list of Designated Buildings of Historic Value. How will the City decide which buildings to remove from the list? That is yet to be seen. But this latest move by the Mayor will ensure you have little say in the matter.

Voice your comments… Plan to attend the next Planning Commission Public Hearing on August 6 at 6:30pm in CITY COUNCIL CHAMBERS room 302A. The changes to Area Variance and Special Permits process is on the agenda.

Tell your City Council external link representatives that you DISSAPROVE of these changes to the zoning code… City Council will have to vote on these changes.

Carolee A. Conklin
carolee.conklin@cityofrochester.gov
(585) 428-6711 (o); (585) 428-7538

Matt Haag
Matt.Haag@cityofrochester.gov
(585) 428-7538 (O); (585) 244-0109 (H)

Dana K. Miller, Vice President
dana.miller@cityofrochester.gov
(585) 428-7538 (O); (585) 436-2409 (H)

Jacklyn Ortiz
Jacklyn.Ortiz@cityofrochester.gov
(585) 428-7538 (O)

Loretta C. Scott
Loretta.Scott@cityofrochester.gov
(585) 428-7538 (O); (585)482-0407 (H)

Adam McFadden, South District
Adam.McFadden@cityofrochester.gov
(585)428-7538 (O)

Carla M. Palumbo, Northwest District
carla.palumbo@cityofrochester.gov
(585) 428-7538 (O); (585) 647- 4072 (H)

Elaine M. Spaull, East District
elaine.spaull@cityofrochester.gov
(585) 428-7538 (O); (585) 271-6665(H)

Lovely A. Warren, President
lovely.warren@cityofrochester.gov
(585) 428-7538 (O); (585) 563-6215 (H)

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This entry was posted on Monday, July 30th, 2012 at 8:12 am and is filed under Rochester News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

10 Responses to “Mayor Richards Launches a Full Scale Assault on Preservation”

  1. The changes proposed just make it official.

    I can’t get up for the flailing on this one as it is a waste of time and energy and is a diversion from what has been the stark reality of preservation efforts in desperate cities all across the country: developers and other monied interests will do whatever they want, whenever they want.

  2. RaChaCha says:

    If the legal issues were so clearcut on the Cataract Building, then why was no lawsuit filed? I don’t mean to be critical — folks fought the good fight — but in the end, I believe that if a lawsuit had been filed challenging the City’s actions (a common type of preservation lawsuit) that, regardless of outcome, the developers would have walked away and left the building alone.

    Dan Palmer, I understand your frustration, but what you say is not always the case by any means. Here in Buffalo, while we’ve had some significant preservation losses over the years, we’re also seen that preservation organizations, individual activists, the preservation board, and local government have developed and exercised some significant tools in our preservation toolkit. It’s not at all unusual or infrequent for demolitions to be halted here, and for development projects to be nixed or significantly impacted (for the better) by preservation-minded community input.

    But you have to fight!!

  3. Stacie Colaprete says:

    First, your return to shore was not part of our negotiations nor our agreement so I must do nothing. And secondly, you must be a pirate for the pirate’s code to apply and you’re not. And thirdly, the code is more what you’d call “guidelines” than actual rules. Welcome aboard the Black Pearl, Miss Turner!

  4. Stacie Colaprete says:

    PS – there goes my house (see article below: Susan B. Anthony Neighbors Unite to Save Old Main St. Church).

  5. Douglas A. Fisher says:

    “50 Years Ago, Sharply Dressed Protesters Stood Up for a Train Station They Revered” reads the headline of an article reporting on the efforts of 100+ civic leaders who marched to save Pennsylvania Station from an ignominious destruction by profiteers who cared little about historic and architectural heritage.

    The August 2nd evening that summer was 86° but the cause was fervent, though doomed. Eleanor Roosevelt, Philip Johnson, Jane Jacobs, Norman Mailer and others either marched or supported the marchers’ cause.

    That was not enough. Private investors, strongly backed by construction unions, were to push through the demolition over the protests of “many of the most respected names in architecture and architectural criticism.”

    In the case of Pennsylvania Station, the battle was lost but the war was won. As the magnitude of the loss sank into the consciousness of thinking New Yorkers, the impetus swelled to adopt a strong municipal historic preservation ordinance. Among other victories of that new law, we saw that the magnificent Grand Central Station was saved despite strenuous efforts by its owner to destroy it.

    In Rochester, however, the juggernaut that destroyed the wonderfully unique 1889 brewery at 13 Cataract Street actually seems to be energized by that act of destruction. Reports indicate that city leaders are weighing the weakening of the very protections for what we have left after the depredations of urban removal and local profiteering.

    Land values and tax base have been greatly enhanced by New York City’s historic preservation ordinance. The same has happened in Rochester, where our preservation ordinance applies.

    Is Rochester really about to countenance a new wave of the destruction that has diminished our fair city so sadly over the past many decades?

    When will they ever learn? When will they ever learn?

    Click on: http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/07/31/50-years-ago-sharply-dressed-protesters-stood-up-for-a-train-station-they-revered/

  6. ADrew says:

    There is a public hearing on the proposed changes tonight at 7:30pm in Council Chambers, for anyone interested.

  7. @ADrew, do you know for sure if these changes are on City Council’s agenda for today? It would just be the Area Variance portion of the changes if they are. But I heard the Mayor got an earful from concerned citizens and has asked Council to hold on them for now. I can’t get a straight answer out of the City Clerk. I may be at the hearing tonight any way just to make sure they don’t slip it in.

  8. ADrew says:

    @RochesterSubway.com, I was told “the proposed changes would not affect landmark designation,” but also that “there needs to be more discussion on this.” While I can’t say for certain landmark designation is officially on the agenda, I think it’s a good idea to attend just in case. I do know Dawn Noto, President of the Susan B. Anthony Association will be attending to speak on this and the manner in which these changes were proposed.

  9. Well count me in then! I’ll be there. To clarify, the changes regarding Landmark Designation and the changes regarding Area Variances are two different sets of changes.

    BOTH are critical for the preservation of our city neighborhoods and historic buildings. But it’s the Area Variance changes that were on the agenda tonight.

  10. Also, if you plan to speak at the hearing you must sign up ahead of time… call the City at 428-7421.

    Speakers get 3 minutes (which may be reduced depending on how many speakers there are).


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