The Stillwater City Council in a 3-2 vote on Tuesday night stood by its decision to deny St. Paul Lutheran Church’s request to demolish two homes located on church property.
The vote to deny the demolition permit sends the request to a third-party consultant, who will be commissioned to review the historical value of the two homes, if any, and decide whether or not a demolition permit should be issued. That decision will likely be made by the first week of May.
The houses in question—one at 604 S. Fourth Street and the other at 216 West Willard Street—are on Saint Paul Lutheran Church property.
The church wants to tear down the homes and replace them with green space that will be incorporated into the main church site.
The Heritage Preservation Commission—now backed by the City Council—says the homes make up an important part of the historical fabric of the neighborhood and should be renovated.
"The lumber barons lived in one place and the people who did the lumbering lived someplace else," Howard Lieberman, Chair of the Stillwater Historic Preservation Commission told KARE 11. "All that creates a historic fabric of Stillwater and these particular houses are of a time period, pre-1945 and they symbolized the type of more modest home that was built in the 1800s."
The church does not believe the homes have a historical significance, and say the cost to renovate the two homes is more than the church’s annual budget.
Ward 1 Council Member Doug Menikheim voted to deny the demolition request on Oct. 2, but said he had since reconsidered after learning about the church’s plans for the space and the work that has gone into this proposal.
But Ward 2 Council Member Micky Cook stood by the HPC.
“I support the HPC’s recommendation and their decision that these houses do have historical value,” Cook said. “Where do we draw the line? When do we say no? I think the Simonet house anchors the corner of that block and it is significant.”
Stillwater Mayor Ken Harycki agreed.
“About a year ago the council took up the (neglected property ordinance) to deal with this case, because every year we seem to lose one house here and one house there and it has to stop somewhere.”
The important thing, Harycki said, is the process.
“We’re not saying no,” he said. “We could still get overruled on this because the expert could come in and say there is absolutely no historic significance, you guys are all wet.”
And the council could learn from that process, too, Cook said. If the council is overruled they could learn where they were wrong and how they misjudged the situation moving forward.
“Let the process run its course,” she said. “If a skilled professional comes in and says they aren’t worthy, then we’ll know.”
Council Member Mike Polehna disagreed.
“They have the right to the mission of their church,” he said. “They’re landlocked… They have a right to their property. To tell them they don’t have a right to their mission because we think there is historical significance there … I think that’s wrong.”
But it is the law, Cook quipped.
The demolition permit was denied on a 3-2 vote with Polehna and Menikheim dissenting. The city will pay for the third-party consultant to review the homes.