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Dayton’s Bluff vacant homes to receive some love
Neighborhood & city partnership prevent demolition of historic homes
Back in April, the Dayton’s Bluff community rallied around four dilapidated homes, drumming up excitement to get developers to purchase and fix up these historic homes.
At the time, the St. Paul Planning and Economic Development Department was seeking demolition permits to tear down the four homes. However, the permits were denied because the homes were in the Dayton’s Bluff historic district.
Instead of applying for an appeal, the planning department was convinced to delay any appeals for six months and instead offer the homes once more to developers through the Inspiring Communities program.
The program offers subsidies to developers to cover some of the costs of repairing the houses, in turn making the selling price of the repaired homes more affordable to lower income families.
The goal is to “preserve, grow and sustain neighborhoods.”
In addition, if the four homes were demolished, one lot in particular would have been too small to rebuild on, therefore losing housing in an already high-demand neighborhood.
When neighborhood residents heard that this was the last chance to rescue these dwellings, they organized a home tour.
“It demonstrated to planning and economic development that the surrounding neighborhood can really play a role in marketing properties,” said St. Paul City Council member Jane Prince, who represents Ward 7, which covers the Dayton’s Bluff neighborhood.
Prince said the four homes received a total of 14 renovation proposals, some of the most competitive proposals they have seen since the program’s creation in 2013.
Tour spotlights several properties
The April 17 tour focused on the four dilapidated homes facing demolition in the historic East Side neighborhood. They are located at: 700 E. Fourth St.; East, 767 E. Fourth St.; 737 Plum St., and 275 Bates Ave. The homes were built between 1875 and 1885.
The city also spotlighted 987 Wilson Ave., which is in similar shape to other homes, as well as two commercial properties — 216-218 Bates Ave. and 208-210 Bates Ave.
The renovation proposals for the commercial properties will be decided at a later this summer.
The house at 275 Bates Ave., built in 1884, was considered pivotal to the neighborhood and needed the largest subsidy. It was once known as the Louis Hansen House and Bakery.
The program to date
When the Inspiring Communities program was first created, 378 properties were placed in the program’s inventory. Today there are 96 properties left. City planners said they estimated the program will end in 2018.
As the program winds down, the most challenging dwellings remain untouched and require the most costly repairs.
Originally, the cap for the renovation subsidies was $150,000. If more money was needed, a waiver was needed to increase the subsidy.
However, the St. Paul Housing and Redevelopment Authority, which oversees the city’s planning and economic development department and the Inspiring Communities program, voted to increase the cap of the subsidies to $175,000 per building.
Amy Brendmoen, who chairs the HRA, said they had been receiving more requests for waivers as Inspiring Communities was going through the remaining property inventory.
With the cap of the subsidy raised by $25,000, the HRA members then selected and approved a renovation proposal for each of the four Dayton’s Bluff homes that had barely escaped the wrecking ball.
The next step will involve the HRA and the Heritage Preservation Commission working with developers on their plans for the homes and a timeline for renovations.
Joe Musolf, who works in the planning department and on the Inspiring Communities program, said renovations typically take six months to a year, but these may take longer because of the historical preservation aspect.
“I can’t say enough how important the partnership with Dayton’s Bluff Community Council has been in getting to this point today,” Musolf said during an interview last week.
Prince added, “Because of the incredible investment of time and effort by the neighbors, this was a really important project for me, and I am really grateful to the PED staff for being willing to take a second run at these properties.”
Musolf acknowledged that some may view this program and the money spent “to be a waste,” but he said city planners and neighborhoods have to make difficult decisions with limited resources across the city.
He said the HRA members have decided that it is the HRA’s public purpose to preserve and stabilize neighborhoods, and the Inspiring Communities program is one way to do that.
Prince said the city often steps in to do the difficult projects, with developers benefiting. However, this time she sees the neighborhood as the main beneficiary.
“And this time, I think it’s fair to say that it’s a neighborhood that’s working really hard to turn itself into a livable, beautiful place ... that’s worth the extra investment,” Prince said.
“I learned that there’s a really passionate group of folks in Dayton’s Bluff community that care a lot about what is happening in their community,” Musolf said.