Saint Paul STRONG

November 2, 2015

Housing teardowns are a very volatile topic in Saint Paul neighborhoods, starting with the proposed demolition of a home on 1721 Princeton in Mac Groveland this past year that galvanized the attention of neighborhood advocates and historic preservationists across the city.

Much less known is the move by the City of Saint Paul Department of Planning and Economic Development (PED) to tear down seven city-owned properties – that it has purchased for over $700K – in the Dayton’s Bluff Historic District on Saint Paul’s East Side. At the same time, another home in the historic district owned by Ramsey County has been ordered removed by city code enforcement officials, which is structurally sound – and which county officials have clearly indicated they wish to consider for rehabilitation and reuse.

In an article in the East Side Review [a Lillie Suburban Newspaper]2 November 1, former Saint Paul City Councilmember Tom Dimond, himself a historic renovation professional, was quoted saying, “The city would be undoing the historic district. "On Ramsey Hill up in the historic district there…Irvine Park, or in the West Summit historic district area, the city would never ever consider this.’”

What makes the move unprecedented is that the city’s Historic Preservation Commission, staffed by PED, voted in October to deny demolition permits for the homes. As of last Friday, October 23, the city’s Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA), a board made up of the seven members of the Saint Paul City Council, filed an appeal to the Saint Paul City Council (in other words, to itself) to override the HPC decision and proceed with demolition. That hearing is anticipated to take place on December 2.

“So let’s get this straight,” asks John Mannillo. “The Heritage Preservation Commission, staffed by PED, denied an HRA request for permission to demolish the historic structures. So the HRA, which is also staffed by PED, and whose board sits as the Saint Paul City Council, has filed an appeal to the Saint Paul City Council, to proceed with demolition?”

Not only is this an appeal by the City Council to itself, but also it is yet another example of the lack of public process, transparency and accountability that led to the formation of Saint Paul STRONG.

Nearly 30 Dayton’s Bluff neighbors sought a meeting with city officials throughout September to try to craft solutions for some of the properties. These calls were ignored. Prior to the HPC meeting in early October, neighbors wrote a formal letter to PED asking for a meeting to discuss potential redevelopment alternatives prior to an HPC public hearing. That request was denied by PED Director Jonathan Sage-Martinson. When neighbors spoke at the HPC on October 8, that body agreed that a broader range of reuse options had yet to be explored and voted against demolition.

The total cost of purchase and demolition of the city-owned properties will be approximately $1 million, while as Dimond points out, a vulnerable portion of the Dayton’s Bluff Historic District – the city’s only working class historic district - will be decimated.

The City Council’s vote to demolish the county owned property at 668-670 Conway in the historic district last Wednesday raises even more questions by neighbors. The property had only been transferred to the county through tax forfeiture in August, it is structurally sound, and worthy of rehabilitation.

The speed with which this building went through the decision-making process, against the wishes of county staff and elected officials, raises questions about what the City of Saint Paul’s rush is. Some speculate that city staff may be pushing its agenda before a new City Council is seated in January.

Contact: John Mannillo, 651-292-8306