Demolition of St. Andrew’s Still on Hold
Monday, July 22, 2019 11:45 AM

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The former St. Andrew’s church building will stand at least another day after an appeals judge on July 22 kept a temporary restraining order in place.

Ramsey County District Judge Jennifer L. Frisch had issued the restraining order on July 15, forbidding Twin Cities German Immersion School from demolishing the building. However, Frisch said that the group seeking to block demolition – Friends of Warrendale / Save Historic St. Andrew’s LLC – had to provide a security bond of more than $1.9 million by 2 p.m. July 22, or the temporary injunction would go away.

Earlier on July 22, though, Chief Judge Edward J. Cleary wiped out the deadline and said the temporary restraining order will stay in place "until further order of this court." He said he would issue a further ruling "on an expedited basis." The school has applied for a demolition permit; as of July 22, the City of Saint Paul had not issued one.

The preservation group says it cannot afford the security bond. It originally had asked Frisch to keep the injunction in place but eliminate the bond requirement, or reduce it to the nominal amount of $1,000. After Frisch refused their request on July 19, the preservation group appealed, which led to Cleary's ruling.

Frisch set the bond amount at a level that the school says represents the extra costs it will incur if further court actions delay its proposed construction project for six months. But the preservation group says the bond requirement, in reality, denies its request for the injunction and clears the way for demolition, even though Frisch’s preliminary ruling says the preservation request meets the legal burden under state law.

Law protects 'historical resources'
The preservation group is seeking a permanent injunction against demolition, arguing that the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act prevents the destruction of historical resources. About 50 supporters rallied in front of the building July 21.

The school intends to replace the former church building – which it now uses as its Aula – with a 24,000-square-foot addition containing more academic space, a gymnasium, and cafeteria. A public hearing is scheduled for this Wednesday, July 24, on the school's request for up to $9 million in conduit revenue bonds to finance the construction. The hearing is before the city's Housing Redevelopment Authority; the HRA meeting begins at 2 p.m. in the third-floor City Council chambers, 15 W. Kellogg Blvd. (You can download a PDF of the staff report from the right column.)

The preservation group says it has less than $7,800 in the bank, and that most of that is owed to a consultant and a mediator for work they’ve already done. As of 6 p.m. July 22, the group's GoFundMe campaign had raised nearly $10,000, which is less than 1 percent of what it needs for the security bond.

“If the Court does not stay the imposition of the security pending appeal, St. Andrew’s Church – the protected natural resource of the State of Minnesota at the heart of this suit – will be demolished within days,” the group’s legal motion states.

The preservation group filed a lawsuit June 3 under the MERA. That state law prevents “impairment” or “destruction” of “natural resources.” Under MERA, “natural resources” includes “historical resources.” The school and preservation group spent two-and-a-half days earlier in July arguing their cases before Frisch. After that, they also spent two days in mediation with retired judge John B. Van De North. Those discussions ended in impasse.

Judge supports preservationists’ claims
In her preliminary ruling, Frisch writes: “On balance … the Friends produced prima facie evidence that the former church building is a protectable historic resource within the meaning of MERA.” The State Historic Preservation Office and the Saint Paul Heritage Preservation Commission both say the St. Andrew’s building is eligible for historic preservation – though the Saint Paul City Council refused to ratify the preservation commission’s recommendation.

Frisch writes: “This matter presents the quintessential case of irreparable harm – the demolition of the former church building cannot be undone.” She says further that, based on initial legal filings, the school has failed to make its case that there are no “feasible and prudent alternatives to demolition,” that an injunction “would amount to an unconstitutional taking of property,” or “that the proposed demolition and reconstruction project is ‘reasonably required’ for the health, safety, and welfare of the public – which is the required burden of proof under the plain language of MERA.”

Bond would cover potential damages
However, Frisch also notes it is reasonable to expect that it could take six months to resolve the issue through the courts. MERA, she says, expressly allows courts to require a bond sufficient to cover damages that the defendant (which is the school, in this case) could suffer because of a temporary injunction.

Based on the school’s projection of delays, she required the Friends group to provide a security bond of $1,964,354 by July 22. If the group fails to do so, “the Temporary Restraining Order will automatically and immediately life and vacate,” Frisch wrote. Cleary's ruling eliminates that requirement, at least for the time being.

Originally published July 15, 2019; updated July 22.

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