Farmington City Council listened to city staff discuss a need to re-establish the function of the Heritage Preservation Commission that reviews work being proposed to historic buildings.

Farmington Economic Development Director Adam Kienberger led the discussion at the July 8 City Council work session.

"We get general inquiries all the time and we want to make sure when we get those that ... we (the city) has an ordinance that has some provisions. We don't have a commission to uphold them and requirements on what they can and can't do to them," Kienberger said.

In 2017, City Council defunded the HPC and all associated funding. Kienberger said city staff has seen conflict and decided to bring this up for discussion. Council can decide to re-engage or eliminate the city ordinances that pertain to the HPC.

History, context

Farmington Planning Manager Tony Wippler shared history and context about the HPC. The commission ordinance began in 1992 and called for five board members to meet bi-monthly and be appointed by City Council.

Since 1992, 16 local Farmington properties have earned the designation of historic properties. Three buildings sit on the National Register for Historic Places, most notably the Exchange Bank Building. Twelve properties in Farmington are eligible to earn the Heritage Landmark designation, Wippler said.

The mission of the Heritage Preservation Commission outlines four purposes:

  1. The commission serves to act as a safeguard the heritage of the city by preserving buildings, sites, structures, objects and districts that reflect the elements of the city's historical, architectural, archaeological or cultural heritage.
  2. It is designed to protect and enhance the city's appeal to residents, visitors and tourists, and serve as a support and stimulus to business and industry.
  3. It can foster civic pride in the beauty and notable accomplishments of the past.
  4. It can promote the preservation, protection and use of historic buildings, sites, structures, objects and districts for the education and general welfare of the people in the city.

"Our program has been a CLG (certified local government) since 1994," Wippler said. That means Farmington is eligible for pass-through grants. A study conducted on each property determined its eligibility. Those properties have a packet that outlines why or why not each property could be eligible for potential grants. The studies and surveys have been paid for via grant.

"One of the big things we are missing with not having a HPC currently is doing the design review specifically for historic buildings," Wippler said.

Certificate of appropriateness

The HPC must issue a certificate of appropriateness for any work, demolition or construction to take place that may impact the historical nature of the building or structure.

"Without funding in place, the HPC has ceased to exist and by continuing to do nothing with regard to the commission itself or the ordinances that direct the HPC, the city is at risk of not being able to fulfill the responsibilities and duties that are outlined in city code," Kienberger said.

City staff consulted with the city attorney who said since the city is without an HPC, it could expose the city to potential challenges for not being able to process certain applications outlined in the city code.

The annual cost of re-establishing the HPC could be about $900, depending on the number of members. In the past, five members were on the commission and received a $30 stipend for each meeting. City staff does not recommend any additional outside consulting services or costs associated with the re-establishment of the commission.

Farmington City Administrator Dave McKnight also suggested an HPC board could function with three instead of five members.

Council discussion

Besides needing to approve work proposed on historic buildings, Kienberger said when the new community development specialist is hired, this person can work with the department and Wippler to complete the HPC work.

Currently the city cannot review work without the authority of the HPC.

Council took part in discussion on whether or not to appoint new members to the HPC.

Farmington Mayor Todd Larson said there is no way the city can find five people who want to serve on the Heritage Preservation Commission. Council member Katie Bernhjelm agreed.

Kienberger said the HPS ordinance outlines how members should have the knowledge and expertise. The city attorney agrees it is not a good idea to appoint a current board member who does not possess this expertise.

"It is hard enough to find people to fill out boards and commissions now let alone ones for these very specific backgrounds," Bernhjelm said.

Council member Joshua Hoyt asked if it would be better for the grant process to appoint a group to serve in the interim and be able to make decisions.

City staff will explore a couple opportunities to advertise for HPC board members and continue to work with the city attorney to do a minor revision temporarily appointing members of existing city boards.

Bernhjelm said she thinks current boards and commissions need more responsibilities from what they currently work on and how combining resources make sense.

Council discussed the potential of tapping into the Farmington Economic Development Authority to help with the function of the HPC and work through the mechanics.

City staff suggested advertising to re-establish the Heritage Preservation Commission. Then re-evaluate after the city starts to receive applications.

"Right now our doing nothing is giving us exposure to challenges," Kienberger said.