Leaked documents could reignite preservation fight

BY CHRISTINE CARRIE FIEN

The Rochester Subway blog is accusing Mayor Tom Richards of an “assault on preservation” based on documents leaked to the blog. The documents have to do with a planned overhaul of the way the city designates landmarks and issues area variances and special permits.

A city spokesperson says the overhaul is in its early stages and the documents represent a “first blush from a staffer.”

“That language hasn’t been vetted and likely will be changed several ways to Sunday before it’s all said and done,” Richards spokesperson Gary Walker said in an e-mail.

However, zoning code changes pertaining to how area variances and special permits are issued are on the City Planning Commission’s August 6 meeting agenda.

It is difficult to discern the intentions of the leaked documents because they’re full of underlines and cross outs, but Rochester Subway interprets them to mean that the city’s Zoning Board would no longer be required to meet certain conditions before it grants a variance for demolition of a Building of Historic Value. The conditions would essentially become guidelines.

“If inconvenient, they can be ignored!” writes Rochester Subway.

The blog also states that private residents would no longer be able to make a landmark application, unless they own the property. (A hearing date on changes to the landmark designation process hasn’t been set yet.)

Richards started talking about an overhaul in the fallout over the Cataract Street brewery project. A last-minute application from a private citizen to make a historic 19th century brew house a landmark threatened to derail the project. Rochester Subway was one of the most vocal supporters of the landmark application, but ultimately the proposal failed and the building has since been demolished.

The August 6 Planning Commission meeting is at 6:30 p.m. in City Council Chambers, 30 Church Street.

2 comments

  1. Douglas Fisher · · Reply

    “50 Years Ago, Sharply Dressed Protesters Stood Up for a Train Station They Revered” reads the headline of a New York Times 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?

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