When driving through one of Stillwater’s most historic neighborhoods, the huge sign on down Fourth Street is hard to miss: “Notice of a Proposed Building Demolition.”
The issue: It’s of a home built in 1890, located kitty-corner from the Historic Courthouse.
St. Paul’s Lutheran Church is requesting a demolition permit to tear down the home and replace it for green space that will be incorporated into the main church site.
The Heritage Preservation Commission will discuss the proposal at tonight’s meeting.
“I just heard that the home at 604 South Fourth Street across from the Old Court house is scheduled to be demolished,” Joan Ockwig, who grew up in the house, wrote in a letter to the city. “(I) just thought you might be able to use it in some way for space of Historical items. It would be a shame to see a humble home that was in one family’s name almost 100 yrs. be destroyed.”
That humble home was owned by the Simonet family since 1897; and Ockwig says the church told John and Eileen Simonet it would never be torn down.
“There is so much history in that short two block area,” she said. “The church let it go down hill and though they told John & Eileen Simonet it wouldn’t be torn down. It seems it is now destined to be torn down.”
St. Paul Lutheran Church’s request is under the new demolition ordinance, City Planner Mike Pogge told the Heritage Preservation Commission last month. City staff has determined that the property was a potential historic resource, therefore placing it before the HPC for review.
The home is valued at $81,100 and the land is valued at $66,000, Pogge said. If the home were moved and the lot were sold, it would be substandard.
Kevin Shuberg, an attorney for St. Paul Lutheran Church, told the commission the church expanded in 2001, and at that time, considered eventually utilizing the
The church considered whether or not the existing properties could be worked into the mission of the church, Shuberg said, but because the houses are no longer considered inhabitable, both houses should be demolished.
“There are major structural deficiencies and the cost to renovate the house far exceeds the current value of the structure,” Kevin Urhammer, the Business Management Chair at St. Paul Lutheran Church wrote to the city. “The cost to demolish and remove the structure is considerably less than the cost to renovate.
“An alternative to demolition would be to sell the property. However, with the structure in its current condition, this property is in no condition to sell. The cost to bring the house up to a reasonable level for rental or resale is not economically feasible. The cost to renovate the property far exceeds the current value of the structure.”
According to the meeting minutes, HPC Chairman Howard Lieberman opposes the demolition.
Part of what makes Stillwater beautiful is the mix of properties—not just the lumber barons’ mansions, Lieberman told the commission. Had the properties been better maintained from the time the church bought them in 1997, he said they may not be as dilapidated as they are now.
Lieberman said he believes the church’s “grand plan” may have always been to demolish the buildings through benign neglect.
City staff is recommending approval of the demolition request.