by Sarah Squires
A proposed local historic district in downtown Winona is closer to becoming a reality with the City Council set to review the idea in January.
The Heritage Preservation Commission, which has been working on the district for two years, held a required public hearing on the matter Wednesday, and has forwarded the proposal for council approval.
The district would stretch from Franklin to Johnson streets on Third Street and from Center to Walnut on Second, covering 110 buildings. If the local district is approved by the City Council, it will mean that property owners must seek approval from the Heritage Preservation Commission before altering the exterior of their buildings.
The district is meant to encourage the historic look and feel of the area, and will include identified "contributing" and "noncontributing" buildings, with both having to gain approval for exterior changes. The Heritage Preservation Commission would work with property owners to ensure that those outside changes are done in a historic fashion.
Property owners in the past have expressed the desire that the city offer some sort of tax incentive for affected property owners to help with potential building renovations that could cost more with new historic requirements. Although such compensation has not been included, the commission did provide an example of a local renovation, done in a historically-accurate way, that was actually less expensive than a modern upgrade.
Chairperson Bob Sebo told property owners in the audience that the Senior Friendship Center, one of the Winona buildings already locally designated as historic, recently needed to replace a rear door to the building. The initial proposal was for a modern door for $4,000. After working with the commission to come up with a door which matched the old architecture for the building, the new price tag was just $550.
Jerry Heymans, Acoustic Cafe owner, attended the meeting and expressed concerns that his property taxes might rise with the new local district. Sebo told him that taxes might rise but only as a result of rising property values, which is a traditional result of local historic districts. Sebo also told him that the designation would mean that his neighbors couldn't hurt his investment by adding gaudy modern storefronts or signs.
Mark Harris, owner of 163 and 161 East Third Street properties, also expressed a concern with a potential rise in property taxes. He said that his property is seeing a 32 percent proposed property tax increase for 2008. He said his storefront needs tuckpointing, paint removal and other work and asked whether he could still do the work himself if the new district is approved. Sebo said that he could.
Mary Polus, member of the Downtown Revitalization Committee, also attended the public hearing. She said that the downtown committee had requested the Heritage Preservation Commission look into establishing a local historic district, and believes it is the first step in implementing a plan to improve the downtown. She asked that the commission recommend approval of the district and forward it to council.
The proposal for the historic district was recommended for approval and will go before the City Council at its second meeting in January.