Rochester city council members on Monday, March 13, endured claims of practicing questionable ethics, cronyism and attempting to take personal property in the pursuit of benefiting city businesses before eventually tabling a vote on whether or not to include one of the city's historic homes on a potentially protected list of properties.
City council in January delayed voting on whether to add a home, located at 1311 N. Main Street, to the city's list of historic landmark properties. The designation, which was created in the city's 2014 historic preservation ordinance, allows city council to take potential actions to protect the historically significant aspects of a home should the homeowner choose to demolish or fundamentally change the property.
The property owners, David Stakor and Susan Lawrence, informed city council they don't want the home included on the list, as they feel it would restrict their ability to update, renovate or sell the home. Council members were divided on the issue earlier this year when other properties were placed on the list against the wishes of those property owners. However, the home discussed at the March 13 meeting, known as the Haselswerdt House, is the only residential property to be included on the landmark list.
"I/we believe the action of the council that would approve the list as historical designations to be overreaching, restrictive, arbitrary, and capricious, not to mention unfair," the property owners said in a letter to council that appeared to threaten litigation against the city should the property be included on the list. Similar comments were echoed by Lawrence at the meeting. Lawrence also said the fact that other properties of historical significance had been torn down in the past at the urging of developers, giving some of the actions the appearance of "cronyism."
"The entire process leading to tonight's vote has been despicable," she said.
City attorney Jeffrey Kragt said the designation wouldn't necessarily restrict the homeowners. Instead, he said, it would allow city administration to alert council if any actions were taken that would change the building's historical character, which in turn could require the owners to come before council for final approval.
Council members Ann Peterson and mayor pro-tem Kim Russell said the requirements amount to restrictions and create potential problems for the homeowners.
"Being part of the real estate community, this has hindered homes from being updated, and I'm afraid this will keep some from being updated properly and cause problems in the future," Peterson said. "There are too many unknowns right now. You never know who will be on this council later and how they will feel about something."...continued on page 2