CANDIDATE FOR ST. PAUL CITY COUNCIL — WARD 2
1. How do you feel about the issue of teardowns in your Ward?
Ward 2 is blessed with a creative and diverse housing stock steeped in history, family, and community. My wife, Wendy Underwood, and I live in a Lauer Brothers House, one of three nearly identical homes in Ward 2 built by a family of quarry owners in the 1880s. The unique character of Ward 2 homes is why people choose to visit and live in our ward. I believe Ward 2 should study the recent design standard regulations implemented for Ward 3 to ensure the artistic and historic integrity of our neighborhood homes are maintained. While this is occurring, as your councilmember I will drive change in the Planning and Economic Development Department (PED) and Department of Safety & Inspections (DSI) to prevent standard permit processes resulting in unexpected, unregulated near-teardowns.
2. How do you feel about the issue of teardowns in the City of St. Paul?
I believe there may be a time and place for a home to be torn down, such as if it is abandoned and inhabitable, or if it is a risk to the surrounding neighborhood. I also believe in private property rights. However, with property rights comes a responsibility to share in what I describe as our community’s social contract – an agreement amongst all residents to respect each other’s rights and property. We must each be responsible for the maintenance and management of our homes and properties, be it making our sidewalks safe in the winter or ensuring a rental property is well maintained. Our social contract also requires us to respect one another and our environment. While I should be allowed to make changes to my home or building, I must consider the impact to others around me.
These community standards I uphold have not been met, especially in Ward 3 and parts of Ward 4. I agree with the City’s decision to enforce stricter housing design standards to get developers back on track and work with us to preserve Saint Paul’s housing heritage. I support consideration of design standards across the city, but our city departments must do a better job of preventing tear downs in the first place.
3. What do you feel is the best approach to addressing and regulating teardowns?
While sometimes the solutions to a challenging issue are not easy, the solutions are often clear. The ability for a developer to pull a permit for a bathroom remodel only to result in a near teardown must be stopped. While the new design standards are in effect in Ward 3, I will work to improve and bring transparency to the housing permit process. I believe these steps could have been taken faster than design standards and would have prevented some teardowns from occurring in the first place. I will challenge the Saint Paul Planning & Economic Development Department and the Department of Safety and Inspections to simplify their land use, zoning, and variance processes and ordinances. It is a very challenging and cumbersome area for a property owner to navigate; I believe it can be simplified and made more transparent, and by doing so will encourage positive improvements in Saint Paul.
4. A petition is currently circulating (see attached) which asks for a teardown moratorium in the Highland and Mac-Groveland areas to allow the development and implementation of a better city-wide approach to teardowns. Is this something you would support as a City Councilmember? Why or why not?
Yes, I would support this request as a City Councilmember. City staff have done a great deal of research into housing design standards as a result of the Highland and Mac-Groveland teardowns, but the City can and needs to do more. Permitting processes, site plan reviews, and neighborhood input have to be improved. I am the only candidate in this race with the experience to work across City Departments to make these changes happen quickly and with the broad support of the City Council.
OTHER WARD CANDIDATES