ST. PAUL (CN) – A pair of historic preservation groups asked a judge Wednesday to block the demolition of a Victorian home in the St. Paul suburb Merriam Park that they say deserves landmark status.
Represented by the Minneapolis firm Faegre Baker Daniels, the Merriam Park Neighborhoods Association and the Historic Saint Paul Corporation filed their suit against developer Kaleab Girma and his business Dream Homes Inc. in Ramsey County District Court.
Dream Homes emailed the groups last week about its plan to demolish the historic estate 1905 Iglehart Avenue “as soon as possible.”
In demanding a restraining order and an injunction, however, the preservation groups say demolition of the most "intact and most exquisitely detailed house in the Merriam Park area” would surely constitute a violation of the Minnesota Environment Rights Act.
Much of the building’s history is recounted in the 13-page complaint.
Edwin R. Moore, a cashier at the People's Bank of St. Paul, tapped the prominent local architect Augustus Gauger to design the home in 1885, three years after Merriam Park was first platted.
Though construction of the house cost $2,000 at the time, Wednesday’s complaint calls it “irreplaceable.”
“If the defendants are allowed to proceed with the planned demolition,” the complaint states, “part of Saint Paul’s and Minnesota’s historic legacy will be lost forever, and the public, including plaintiffs and their members, will suffer irreparable harm and be without remedy.”
As detailed in the suit, developer Girma applied for a lot split in February 2018, requesting to divide the current two 1905 and 1911 Iglehart Avenue lots into four narrower lots.
Girma sent the letter about his plans to demolish the properties at issue on March 8, two days after the City of Saint Paul Department of Planning and Economic Development denied the application after it concluded that the lot split would result in nonconforming structures.
The plaintiffs say they have met with Girma about alternatives to demolition, one of which would entail moving the Victorian house to another site.
Girma allegedly said he would be willing to having the building relocated, but only if such a move would not delay the redevelopment timeline.
Once the lot split was denied, the complaint says Girma noted in his email, “there is going to be urgency in the demolition of the properties on Iglehart in order to keep the development of the project on track.”
“Unless the zoning department can grant us a conditional approval, we will be demolishing as soon as possible from the closing date,” Girma wrote, as quoted in the complaint.
Girma and Dream Homes closed on the purchase agreement for both 1905 and 1911 Iglehart on March 9, 2018, the complaint states.
The preservation groups note meanwhile that, even if Dream Homes were approved to relocate 1905 Iglehart to another site, the Minnesota Department of Transportation has weight restriction that would prohibit the move until May 2018.
In a phone interview, Girma said he has not been served the complaint because he is not the legal owner of the properties.
"They are misinformed. Initially I intended to tear it down, but it's not finalized," Girma said.
Girma wouldn't confirm the future plans of 1905 Iglehart and did not want to discuss them because as he claims he is not the legal owner.
The advocates' attorney, Charles Macdonald with Faegre Baker Daniels LLP, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday evening.
According to the lawsuit, 1905 Iglehart is one of the most detailed houses in the Merriam Park area, showcasing the Italianate style that Gauger often used in his homes rather than the Shingle Style and the Queen Anne style that was popular among the architect’s contemporaries.
One of Gauger's seven sons, Raymond, succeeded Gauger in the practice, and the Gauger firm ultimately became responsible for many buildings in Minnesota and throughout the United States, including courthouses in 14 states.
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