St. Paul is weighing whether to charge a fee of up to $500 to residents who want to make changes to historic properties, as part of a slew of proposed changes to how the city’s Heritage Preservation Commission works.
The city ordinance that governs the commission was written more than 40 years ago. The updated version would require fees to defray city costs. It would also protect sites and districts that the commission is studying for historic designation, simplify the environmental assessment process and expand heritage preservation approvals from one year to two years.
More than 75 people attended the first public hearing on the ordinance Thursday evening. Most testified against the fees, drawing applause from the crowd as they raised concerns about another cost being added to the high price of maintaining and restoring historic homes.
Mindy Peters, a renter who lives in the Dayton’s Bluff neighborhood, said she and her husband want to buy a historic house but are now worried they won’t be able to afford it. She said she’d like to see fee waivers based on income and for people making accessibility modifications.
“My husband and I value preservation of historic buildings, but not over the ability of people to afford, maintain and live well in their homes,” she said. “People are more important than buildings.”
The $500 fee would be required for residents who want to make big changes to a property, such as demolition or new infill construction. Applications for additions under 1,000 square feet and garages under 625 square feet would cost $140. Applications for smaller changes, such as replacing windows, would cost $70.
Other proposed changes aim to simplify the application process. Currently, applicants must complete an environmental assessment work sheet that’s submitted to the state — a time-consuming process without clear guidelines, said Heritage Preservation Supervisor George Gause. The updated ordinance would give the commission responsibility for the whole process, making it faster and more transparent, Gause said.
A commission committee will review the ordinance and make recommendations.
The draft ordinance will likely go before the City Council in August or September, following opportunities for public input this summer. The Summit Hill and Dayton’s Bluff neighborhoods will host open houses in coming months, Gause said.
Summit Hill Association board President Andrew Rorvig said board members have had questions about the fees and are interested in how the updated ordinance would affect teardowns in the neighborhood. The board hasn’t taken a stance on the ordinance yet, he said.
Council Member Rebecca Noecker, whose ward includes Summit Hill, said she’s encouraged by the public input the draft ordinance has already generated.
“I think it speaks to how seriously we take history in St. Paul,” she said.