STILLWATER, Minn. - There is not really a battle between "church" and "state" in Stillwater, but it is a scuffle between a church and the city's Historic Preservation Commission. At stake is the fate of two old houses.
"The lumber barons live in one place and the people who did the lumbering lived someplace else," commented Howard Lieberman, Chair of the Stillwater Historic Preservation Commission. "All that creates a historic fabric of Stillwater and these particular houses are of a time period, pre-1945 and they symbolized the type of more modest home that was built in the 1800's."
The houses at 604 S. Fourth Street and 216 West Willard Street are on Saint Paul Lutheran Church property. They are adjacent to the church parking lot, however the church does not intend to replace the homes with more asphalt.
"We want to create green space here," said Leon Siverhus, Chair of the Church Committee. "We have various events going on. We have an annual Ice Cream Social here that we have had to hold in the parking lot and it is just not nice in the summer time. It is hot and if we had green space in both those areas...outdoor sessions, maybe, and quite a few ideas that we would use it for."
The church has opted not to renovate the two houses because of the cost. "We had an inspector come in here and evaluate what we needed to do," said Siverhus. "The costs were just so prohibitive. The cost of the combined houses was more than our annual church budget."
By city ordinance, the request to demolish a home built prior to 1945 required a permit from the city. The City Council's denial of a permit triggered a public hearing on the issue in which the Council, by straw vote, indicated their support for the Preservation Commission. That, in turn, triggered another vote by the Council, scheduled for Tuesday night.
Another "no" vote would require a study be done to determine what, if any, historic value the houses actually possess and whether or not a demolition permit should be issued.
Lieberman expressed his feelings that the church does "good work" and did not doubt the sincerity of their request, however, he noted that St. Paul Lutheran asked for and was granted a demolition for two other houses in the 1990's with the understanding that there would be no further requests.
Siverhus said he understood the feelings of preservationists. "We appreciate those concerns," he said. "I think there are a lot of buildings that deserve to be salvaged and maintained, but we do not have that opinion of these buildings."
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