Here's a letter from Olmsted County District Judge Kevin Lund that will be in the city council packet for Monday night's meeting on the Williams Apartment project. Lund sent it around to a big email list late Friday.
Dear Sandra, Ed, Bruce, Mike, Mark and Randy,
In advance, I apologize for the length of this letter. I have tried to condense my thoughts as succinctly as possible and am writing to you as I am unsure whether I can appear and speak at the public hearings on the two issues I am concerned about because of the Judicial Code of Ethics. As a backdrop, I appreciate that few in the community understand the tremendous responsibility and pressure you face being in the “glare of the elected official klieg lights”. I certainly do and have for the last sixteen years. My comments are non-judicial in nature and are simply those of a third generation “son of Rochester”.
First, it is imperative that a Heritage Preservation Ordinance be passed. I have advocated this publically and privately for over twenty five years. My family restored the oldest brick building in town, the Kelley Building constructed in 1858, on the corner of Fourth Street and South Broadway. As such, I have had financial “skin in the game”. If the city council had passed this ordinance some twenty two years ago, the latest conundrum over the 5th on 5th project could have been avoided. The historic Williams home would have been appropriately designated by the city council, putting developers and other on notice that it is entitled to special consideration. Parallel preservation/zoning/demolition/building permit processes would have been implemented with open, timely and hopefully constructive discussions among the preservation commission, city council, planning and zoning, the developer, neighbors, neighborhood associations and the general public as to the merits of such a project. As it stands now, everyone’s hair is on fire and valuable community resources, ingenuity and brain power is being focused on this particular project. Until such an ordinance is passed these project by project battles will continue to be waged concerning the fate of the soon to be Mayo Clinic owned Lourdes High School, the West side of South Broadway (i.e. principally Paine Furniture), Soldiers Memorial Field, The Olmsted County Fairgrounds limestone buildings and WPA constructed grandstand, Saint Marys Park along with other historically and architecturally significant buildings and sites standing in the path of Rochester’s ever swinging wrecking ball.
To the extent you need meritorious and sound public policy considerations for the passage of this proposed ordinance, let me quote from two important and often misrepresented land use documents that should give you guidance. As far back as 1979, one of the concerns raised in the Land Use Plan for the Rochester Urban Service Area was that “historic sites be designated on the plan in order to indicate the need for special intention to insure their preservation.” Critically, the Downtown Rochester Master Plan Report from August of 2010 unequivocally states, “One of the principals directing the development of the Master Plan Prioritization of its initiatives was to build upon historic buildings and landmarks that contribute to Rochester’s history and culture.” Under the heading “Urban Design Framework” the report further concludes, “Distinctive architecture will reinforce the district’s visual identity and support the high level of architectural design seen in both the iconic, historic buildings like the Plummer Building, and the residential fabric of the surrounding neighborhoods. The value of protecting existing historic structures cannot be underestimated and the plan retains the historic buildings that give Downtown and the First Avenue corridor its unique character and represent high quality building materials and details.” These valuable and approved documents, which we utilize to make land use decisions, necessarily require that the Heritage Preservation Ordinance be passed.
Second, as far as the zoning change for the proposed 5th on 5th project, I have a couple of observations unrelated to the historic preservation/affordable housing/spot zoning arguments that are certainly applicable. The two lots are not designated R-4, despite the term “designated” being used by Planning and Zoning along with the developer. They are designated R-2. The potential for R-4 expansion into this neighborhood in 1979 map was, I believe, based upon the belief that with the closing of Central Junior High School and demolition of the Junior College (Coffman Building) this neighborhood would change in its character. The reasoning was that when Lincoln Elementary closed on West Center Street many of the single family homes in the surrounding neighborhood were converted into multiple family dwellings. With the ultimate demolition of Central, the old college and Mayo’s ongoing demolition of houses for surface parking lots spreading toward this 5th Street neighborhood, the land use assumption was that this same type of transformation would occur. It never did. Since the assumptions for possible R-4 designation never materialized, this area should unequivocally remain zoned R-2. It has been and continues to be an intact stable single family neighborhood, with many homes having been carefully restored, that should not be disrupted.
If you carefully examine the Downtown Master Plan, you will also determine that this neighborhood is not the infill area suggested as a transition area between the core Mayo Clinic complex and the surrounding neighborhoods. The infill area is the vast expanse of surface parking lots that surround downtown (i.e. including the two city blocks demolished by Lourdes for parking). These are the areas appropriate for the housing development contemplated. In the instant case, our SW neighborhoods should not have to pay for the sins of the Mayo Clinic when they failed to maintain and unnecessarily tore down the 52 unit College Apartments.
A humble suggestion, implicit and explicit in the Downtown Master Plan, is instead of asking the neighbors in any area of town to capitulate and compromise, it should be the Mayo Clinic’s responsibility to capitulate and compromise by working with neighborhoods and developers to find the appropriate infill sites on their twenty eight (or more) surface parking lots to construct housing and other amenities, including green space, that benefits primarily their students, workforce and the workforce being created for them by UMR. They not only have the appropriate land, but also the financial resources to make this Downtown Master Plan come to life.
I know it takes great personal sacrifice to be in leadership positions like yours and that all of you love and care for this wonderful community that we all call home. I firmly believe it is time to act in the common good of our city, which transcends the interests of a handful of developers, the Rochester Chamber of Commerce, the Mayo Clinic and the other unelected powers that be. If you find the wisdom and courage it will necessarily take to pass the long overdue Heritage Preservation Ordinance and deny the zoning appeal, the lens of history will view your collective decision as historic.
With respect and admiration,