Planning Commission Delays Decision on Historic Designation
Friday, November 30, 2018 9:55 AM

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Saint Paul’s Planning Commission put off making a recommendation Nov. 30 on whether the former Saint Andrew’s church building should be added to the city’s historic registry. The full commission’s decision echoed a similar decision made two days earlier by the commission's Comprehensive and Neighborhood Planning Committee. The full commission sent the issue back to the committee, which had requested more information from city staff about a range of potential impacts designation could have.

The committee will revisit the issue on Dec. 12; the Planning Commission will revisit the issue on Dec. 14.

Committee members said they were hesitant to make a recommendation on historic designation in isolation from the zoning and site review decisions the commission will have to make on plans by Twin Cities German Immersion School to demolish the church building to make room for a school expansion. The commission's Zoning Committee is scheduled to review the school's site plan and variances on Dec. 20, and make a recommendation to the full Planning Commission, which is scheduled to discuss it Dec. 28. Ultimately, the City Council will decide whether or not to grant historic designation; the current timeline has that decision penciled in for March 6.

A group calling itself Save Historic St. Andrew’s is seeking to block demolition by adding the former church building to the city’s historic registry, despite opposition from the school. The city’s Heritage Preservation Commission concluded Nov. 5 that the building is eligible for historic designation.

Committee wants a broader look
At a Nov. 28 meeting, members of the Comprehensive and Neighborhood Planning Committee said it was clear how designation is justified under the heritage preservation chapter of the city’s Comprehensive Plan. But several said it is their responsibility to take a broader look at whether other principles and policies in the Comprehensive Plan justify opposing historic designation. They said commissioners also should consider comp plan topics such as education, neighborhood vitality and character, and the potential for designation leading to a different use, a vacant building, or other unintended outcomes.

Planning committee members also expressed concern about not having the full context of the dispute, about designating a property "historic" despite the owner's public objection, and about setting precedent by allowing the designation process to be "weaponized" to prevent development.

Other developments

  • District 10's Land Use Committee recommended approving the zoning variances the school is seeking for its proposed expansion. The committee voted Dec. 5 to support variances on lot coverage, height, and parking.
  • Save Historic Saint Andrew’s filed an extensive data practices request on Nov. 29, asking the school to provide details on expansion alternatives it considered that would relocate the school, otherwise not demolish the former church building, and reasons it is not pursuing those alternatives. The request also seeks a wide range of information on costs, decision-making, and communication.
  • At the request of the city, the school is wrapping up a study of traffic flow, parking, and pedestrian activity near the school. Results are expected by Dec. 7.

Originally published Nov. 30; updated Dec. 6, 2018

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