Spencer may create design guidelines for historic district buildings

Spencer may create design guidelines for historic district buildings

Spencer is applying for funds that would be used to create voluntary design guidelines for buildings in the downtown historic district that wish to honor that area’s Art Deco and Spanish Mission architecture styles.

On Monday, the Spencer City Council approved 4-1 applying for a grant program that, if approved and advanced forward, would help fund the creation of those guidelines.

“Tonight, what we’re asking for is council support in applying for a grant,” Planning Director Steve Hallgren said. “This is just the first step in the entire process.”


The grant, under the 2020 Certified Local Government Grant program, is through the State Historical Society of Iowa. The grant is a 60%-40% match. The city would be required to fund 40%, or an estimated $11,600, of the cost to create the guidelines.

The matter was discussed at the Spencer Historic Preservation Commission’s June 25 meeting, which decided to ask the city for support in applying for the program.

Spencer prides itself on the amount of Art Deco architecture in the downtown area. That style was used to rebuild the area from the ground up in 1931 after a fire caused by fireworks destroyed much of Grand Avenue.


“The amount of reconstruction that was all done at one time to a particular period of two different styles, Art Deco and Spanish Mission, there’s an interest in keeping that historically significant,” Mayor Kevin Robinson said. “So that’s really what this in reference to. We’ll move forward as a council discussing the pros and cons.”

Robinson said the city, by applying, is only stating it would be interested in covering matching funds. It has not committed funding yet. 

“Tonight’s actions are not the final actions on moving forward with design guidelines,” Robinson said.

Hallgren shared what next steps could be.

“If the grant is successful in funding from the state, the next step would be to procure a firm in creating the design guidelines,” Hallgren said. “And, as Councilman (Steve) Bomgaars alluded to, the full intention the city’s historic preservation commission, in moving forward with this project, is that these are a set of guidelines that would be presented on an educational basis to downtown property owners. They would be absolutely voluntary.”

Bomgaars said he also wanted to point out that downtown buildings undergoing renovations already must follow various building codes and requirements.


“They just can’t do whatever they want to do,” he said. “There are things that they must comply with. At this point, these would be enhancements if they want to make the historical renovations back to the 1930 period, correct?”

“Correct,” Hallgren said. “You’re 100% correct in that.”

The guidelines also wouldn’t apply to all of downtown.

“The design guidelines will be specific to the historic district of downtown, which doesn’t necessarily include every building within the downtown area,” Hallgren said.

Ward 5 Councilman Ron Hanson voted against approving the application submission.

“I would like to have seen more of the downtown business people here to kind of discuss what they felt on it,” he said. “I’m going to vote no because I just really don’t believe we’ve done our due diligence and brought in some businesses downtown and I’d like to hear what they have to say about it.”


Ward 4 Councilwoman Leann Jacobsen said she would vote for it “understanding that the guidelines are voluntary.” She also said she shared Hanson’s concern about business owners being involved.


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