Michael and Phyllis Tierney, both 89 and longtime residents of St. Paul’s Merriam Park neighborhood, can sell their houses to a developer after all.

On Wednesday, St. Paul City Council Member Samantha Henningson withdrew her proposal to place a nine-month moratorium on teardowns and lot splits among more than 40 potentially historic area homes.

Henningson said she proposed the moratorium to more systematically study and evaluate historic homes. On Wednesday, she said she believes in “people over buildings. And with that, I decided to withdraw the proposed moratorium.

“I was trying to be proactive,” she said, adding that she will continue to work with city planning staff to find a more measured way to protect historic buildings in St. Paul. “[The Tierneys] just got caught up in it.”

The Tierneys have an offer from a developer who wants to replace their two houses on Iglehart Avenue with four new single-family homes. They were facing the prospect of having their retirement savings depleted while waiting for a moratorium to end.

Mike Tierney, one of the couple’s nine children, welcomed the news and said the family will immediately try to complete the sale of the homes at 1905 and 1911 Iglehart.

Historic preservationists and many of the Tierneys’ Merriam Park neighbors were calling on the City Council to pass the moratorium as a way to slow teardowns while a survey is conducted and a possible historic district is considered.

Neighbors were alarmed when they learned last fall that one developer proposed tearing down the homes, both well over 100 years old, to replace them with multiunit housing. Neighborhood opposition prompted that developer to walk away from the deal.

Then another stepped forward and neighbors, worried that the homes would be lost before the extent of their historic contributions to the area can be ascertained, approached the city to do something about it.

Several neighbors — many of whom have spent large sums to restore their own homes — urged the moratorium be passed at a public hearing last week.

Survey underway

The city survey of 46 potentially historic properties in and around Merriam Park is expected to be complete by the end of the year and could result in the designation of a Merriam Park Heritage Preservation District. Previous surveys, however, have noted that many of the homes have fallen into disrepair or had changes made to them that threaten their historic character.

In an e-mail to Fourth Ward residents, Henningson wrote: “Neighbors did some incredible organizing around this — in addition to all the calls and e-mails I received, 153 people signed a petition supporting the moratorium, which I read to mean a groundswell of support for historic preservation and that the 26 owners of identified properties on the list — and likely most property owners — will not be tearing their houses down in the coming months,” she wrote. “This sort of organizing will be necessary if historic designation is pursued for Merriam Park.”