STILLWATER — For some, a review of historic preservation regulations in Stillwater can’t come soon enough.

As the city embarks on an in-depth look at the ordinances and policies by which the Heritage Preservation Commission safeguards the city’s history and its landmarks, officials are finding themselves at odds with some of those policies, and sometimes with each other. 

On July 2, city councilmembers considered once again whether the house at 615 Broadway Street South has historic significance. Homeowners Reid and Julie Miller wish to demolish the house, built around 1880 and greatly modified since then, in order to rebuild. Their request for a demolition permit triggered the need for a designation study to determine the home’s historic significance. The 106 Group, one of a handful of firms chosen by the city for such studies, found that the property does not meet any of the criteria for listing by the Department of the Interior as a heritage preservation site. 

Had the council accepted the study, the demolition would have been allowed to proceed. However, in a split vote on June 4, the council did the opposite, effectively “going down the road of locally designating the property rather than nationally designating it, thereby creating a prohibition on demolition,” Community Development Director Bill Turnblad explained.

 Addressing a letter from attorney Peter J. Frank for property owners Reid and Julie Miller, City Attorney Korine Land told the Council the criteria for designating the structure as locally historic must be clear. She added that in order to reconsider the June 4 vote, it would have to suspend Robert’s Rules of Order. Councilmember Mike Polehna moved to suspend the rules, but his motion failed, ending the discussion.

A historic designation study for a garage at 116 Harriet Street North also divided the council, which had voted June 4 to authorize the study, then reconsidered that action at the June 18 meeting at the request of councilmembers who were absent on June 4.

Property owners Dan and Allison Boblit would like to demolish the two-car garage and replace it with a similar-sized three car garage. In May, the Historic Preservation Commission denied the demolition on the basis that the structure is a historic resource and there are feasible alternatives to demolition. The 916 square foot garage was built at some time prior to 1904 by steam engine builder David Swain. Though there is a sag in the loft floor, a sistered cross beam and the support poles are starting to rot, according to the staff report, staff found the garage to be in fair to good condition and reparable, and deemed the property as potentially locally historic. 

Councilmember Tom Weidner balked at the $5,000 cost to the city for doing the designation study, and the fact that, as he put it, “the historic value could be the story behind people who used to live there” rather than the building itself. A failed motion by Weidner to grant the requested demolition permit was followed by a 3-2 vote to proceed with a designation study.

Referring to the previous case in which the council rejected the findings of the designation study done for the Broadway Street residence, he added, “I just think it’s a waste of time if we’re not going to follow the advice of the people we referred it to.”

Meanwhile, the council formally accepted a $9,950 grant from the Minnesota Historical Society’s Historical and Cultural Heritage Grants Program for the purpose of reviewing the Heritage Preservation Commission’s enabling ordinance amendments. The city will provide funds up to $21,325. The project will conclude by July 31, 2020.

During the afternoon meeting, managers of Brown’s Creek Watershed District (BCWD) discussed the many different, often confusing standards and regulations for stormwater management that cities and developers must follow. To address the inconsistencies, the watershed board has simplified the rules, explained Craig Leiser, BCWD President. 

The goal, he said, is to make it easier for local governments, developers and contractors to understand the expectations and requirements. In other words, he said, “less angst and fewer head pounding sessions.”

The Council also agreed, in concept, to a concurrent detachment/annexation of properties within Oak Park Heights. Canvas Health plans to redevelop their property on the south side of Orleans Street between Panama and Ozark Avenues, which lies partly in Stillwater and partly in Oak Park Heights. The corporation asked whether the entire parcel could be in Stillwater. Oak Park Heights leaders agreed, with a caveat: that Stillwater concurrently detach the right-of-way property traversed by Lookout Trail. According to Stillwater Public Works Director Shawn Sanders, the Minnesota Department of Transportation is seeking to turn that roadway back over to municipal control. 

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