Council again denies church demolition permits

The Stillwater City Council again voted to deny demolition permits requested by Saint Paul’s Lutheran Church to tear down two church-owned homes at 604 Fourth St. South and 216 Willard St.

The decision Tuesday night came after church officials asked the council to reconsider an earlier denial of the church’s demolition permit.

The permit denial now allows the city’s Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) to resume research halted when the council tabled the permit at a previous meeting to give church officials time to discuss the matter with neighbors.

“What this does is it allows the HPC to start researching to see if the home has historic significance, and someone can still come back and tell us ‘Stillwater you’re wrong and you have to allow the permits.’ ” said Ward 2 Councilwoman Micky Cook.

Cook moved to deny the demolition permits, which passed on a 3-2 vote with Ward 4 Councilman Mike Polehna and Ward 1 Councilman Menikheim dissenting.

City Planner Mike Pogge said the HPC would begin the process of hiring a State Historical Society consultant to assess the properties. That process takes 180 days and involves analysis by a historian, report, another public hearing and another HPC recommendation to the council.

Pogge said that process would likely be finished by May and if the demolition permit is granted, the church could begin to put in its green space that it has planned.

Ward 1 Councilman Doug Menikheim changed his original vote after attending the neighborhood meeting and hearing the side of the issue he felt was missing at the original public hearing.

Ward 3 Councilman Jim Roush also agreed to deny the permits, adding that he was interested in learning if the two properties had historic significance and wanted to see the processes through.

The Saint Paul’s demolition permit request is the first test case under a revised city ordinance on preservation of historic homes.

The issue first came to the council in October after church officials appealed the HPC’s denial of the demolition permits. The council voted 3-2 then to uphold the HPC decision.

Councilmen Mike Polehna and Jim Roush dissented for two reasons in October. The pair said denying the Saint Paul’s demolition permit would infringe upon the church’s rights as property owners, and that church officials researched and determined the two homes have no historical significance.

At a subsequent council meeting, the permit request was tabled at the request of church officials so they could meet and discuss the changes with their neighbors and address any concerns.