Key Initiatives to Address Teardowns

Save Our St. Paul Neighborhoods is working on many city-wide initiatives to combat teardowns and promote sustainable and respectful development in all of our neighborhoods. Here is what we’re currently working on.

moratorium on teardowns

Save Our St. Paul Neighborhoods is currently working with St. Paul Councilmembers to enact a teardown moratorium in the Macalester-Groveland and Highland Park areas, which are most affected by teardowns at the present time.  However, we propose lifting the moratorium ONLY when, on a city-wide basis, the city enacts the following:

  • Teardowns are treated as major zoning variances, providing community notification, the possibility of a hearing and an approval or denial of the teardown, AND
  • For demolitions, salvageable materials must be removed for reuse or recycling AND
  • The city provides tools for neighborhoods to advocate for the preservation, protection and enhancement of the unique history, character and natural resources of St. Paul’s neighborhoods.

conservation districts

Many residents and visitors are aware of the local historic districts in St. Paul, which add considerably to its charm and uniqueness. Those who live in historic districts, or who seek historic designation for their neighborhoods, appreciate the protections they offer in terms of preserving the historic housing stock and character of the areas where they live. State and national historic districts also exist, but do not offer the same degree of protection and oversight against disruptive development that local historic districts currently provide (see 27 Crocus Place in the Gallery).

Another tool that SOSPN is advocating and promoting for St. Paul offers many similar protections, but offers more flexibility in terms of designation and implementation. A conservation district is a hybrid tool that originated in the urban planning world and has since become used most often as a preservation strategy. It’s a delicate balance between aesthetics, cultural resource protection and municipal controls that address a neighborhood’s overall relationship or sense of place more than its individual structures.

Unlike historic districts, conservation districts are not limited to areas and neighborhoods that are not currently considered historic, but which neighbors feel have unique and valuable character and features that they wish to preserve and protect. They go hand-in-hand with historic districts, gaining meaning in relationship to them and sometimes evolving from a conservation district to a historic district.

Conservation districts allow neighborhoods to design and propose regulations to protect the physical and natural features of their neighborhoods (houses, trees, sidewalks, parkways, trails, garages, green space, porches, etc.). Once approved by relevant authorities, such as a City Council, they become an “overlay” of additional zoning regulations in the neighborhood, enforceable under law.

Conservation districts are authorized and utilized in such diverse cities as Nashville, Cambridge, Massachusetts, Bozeman, Montana and Iowa City, Iowa.  In Minnesota, Red Wing, Stillwater and most recently, Minneapolis, have initiated conservation districts. St. Paul needs to pass “enabling legislation” to permit use of conservation districts in our city.

To learn more about conservation districts, the following studies by local experts provide more information:

Alternate Forms of Historic Designation: A Study of Neighborhood Conservation Districts in the United States by Jessie McClurg, Assoc. AIA, CURA Research Assistant, University of Minnesota

An Investigation of Historic Conservation Districts As A Viable Option for Saint Paul by Bethany Gladhill, MA in Historic Preservation

city design guidelines

The City of St. Paul recently enacted new residential design guidelines for Ward 3 to address some of the issues around teardowns, focusing on height, setback and lot coverage restrictions that are aimed at preventing the overly large, out of scale new houses that were being built, especially in the Macalester-Groveland and Highland Park neighborhoods.

Save Our St. Paul Neighborhoods and its members sponsored informational forums by City staff, and also attended the Planning Commission’s public hearing that was held in May which was focused on both the specific guidelines and the proposal to enact them city-wide.

We took the position that they should be enacted in Ward 3, around which they were originally designed and for which there was great urgency to have such guidelines in place. However, we supported the position of many of the district councils and members from other wards who wanted more time to evaluate them and their appropriateness, as written, to other areas of the city. This was, ultimately, the approach that the Planning Commission took in its recommendations to the City Council, which adopted the new ordinance on July 22, 2015.