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 knows this. But when voting in the case of Cataract, the Zoning Board blatantly ignored these laws (as Howard Decker pointed out 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…
- 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.
- 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??
- 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!
- 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 representatives that you DISSAPROVE of these changes to the zoning code… City Council will have to vote on these changes.
Carolee A. Conklin
(585) 428-6711 (o); (585) 428-7538
(585) 428-7538 (O); (585) 244-0109 (H)
Dana K. Miller, Vice President
(585) 428-7538 (O); (585) 436-2409 (H)
(585) 428-7538 (O)
Loretta C. Scott
(585) 428-7538 (O); (585)482-0407 (H)
Adam McFadden, South District
Carla M. Palumbo, Northwest District
(585) 428-7538 (O); (585) 647- 4072 (H)
Elaine M. Spaull, East District
(585) 428-7538 (O); (585) 271-6665(H)
Lovely A. Warren, President
(585) 428-7538 (O); (585) 563-6215 (H)
Tags: Cataract Brewery, city council, demolition, Marcia Barry, Mayor Thomas Richards, preservation, zoning
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.
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.