Rockford offers dis-incentives to relocation

One of the worst dis-incentives to development is City Hall and a self-imposed bureaucracy. My friend, Kevin Ciabatti at the Building Department, is wonderful to work with. He understands the real work of architecture and construction. Unfortunately, his hands are often tied by the rules and regulations of “theorists” and politicians who do not understand the real world.

Many of Rockford’s buildings are old. Many do not, and cannot comply with current regulations. Some are dangerous. These buildings did not, however, arrive at this state overnight. Guidelines for the re-development of older portions of Rockford (River District, South Main, 7th Street, Broadway, North End) need to acknowledge this imperfection and strive for incremental change. Each development project must address dangerous situations. Issues or elements that were unacceptable when the building was constructed—not issues or elements that became dangerous through changes in rules. Each project must have as a goal a building that is better—the end result should not be government mandated perfection.

This philosophical approach to the re-use and rehabilitation of existing buildings requires city administration to lessen the criteria for specific areas of Rockford. The same rule for Barnes & Noble as Minglewood is unfair and has severe economic repercussions. Blanket use of the same rule for old and new buildings will empty downtown quicker than any other single issue. Rockford could take a lesson from Detroit—ask Doug Mark what this is like. Strict property standards and codes applied to older buildings will hasten, if not create, obsolescence. Acres and acres of empty buildings, board-ups, or, at best leveled, blocks will result. Look at West State; Rockford has a good start.

We must require our elected representatives to create a level playing field. Government should not provide an incentive for new construction (by providing new infrastructure without user fees) while increasing the cost of rehabilitation by requiring “like new” compliance of existing conditions. Buildings should not be legislated to die of old age, they should be allowed to age with distinction.

Rob C. Belles’ architecture office is at 101 E. Jefferson St. in Rockford.

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