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Jefferson City Council overturns historic commission's demolition denial

Jefferson City Council overturns historic commission's demolition denial

April 2nd, 2019 by Nicole Roberts in Local News

This May 2012 file photo shows the John G. Christy Municipal Building, commonly known as City Hall, at 320 E. McCarty St. in Jefferson City.

Photo by News Tribune /News Tribune.

A round of applause broke the silence of Monday's Jefferson City Council meeting after council members voted to allow Trinity Lutheran Church to proceed with demolishing a property on Swifts Highway.

In a 9-1 vote, the City Council approved a resolution overturning the Jefferson City Historic Preservation Commission's denial of Trinity Lutheran Church's demolition request for 901 Swifts Highway. Ward 2 Councilwoman Laura Ward, who is a well-known historic preservationist, was the sole council member to vote against the resolution.

In February, the Historic Preservation Commission denied Trinity Lutheran Church's request to demolish a property at 901 Swifts Highway in a 4-1 vote, with one commissioner abstaining from voting. Property owners can appeal the commission's denials to the City Council, under city code.

The Rev. Sam Powell, of Trinity Lutheran Church, said the congregation did not believe the city had a "compelling interest in forcing" the congregation to maintain a property that "should be torn down." He added the "only people being hurt (by the property) is the members of the congregation" and the neighbors.

"Respect the wishes of my members and allow us to demolish this structure and make our neighborhood safer and stronger," he told council members during Monday's public hearing.

The church purchased the property in 2006 with the intent to rehabilitate the property and use it as meeting space, as well as "ensure the safety of those most important to us — the children," Powell said.

When the property served as a halfway house before the church purchased it, Trinity Lutheran Church and its school had problems with security and safety — from thefts to trespassing issues — Powell said.

After purchasing the property, the church later learned the property was too damaged and cost-prohibited to rehabilitate, said Carol Fischer, Trinity Lutheran Church congregation treasurer. The property has sat vacant since then.

Homeless people have been sleeping in the vacant building while other people have been doing illegal activity inside the property, Fischer said. She added someone broke into the property about two weeks ago, leaving behind drugs and alcohol bottles.

The church plans to demolish the property and keep the lot for future expansion of the church, Powell and Fischer said.

Since the property could be rehabilitated, Historic City of Jefferson member Tammy Boeschen said, she recommended the church work with historic preservation groups and realtors to rehabilitate the property and address the safety issues.

"Once a property is demolished, you can't get it back," she said.

Some individuals have spoken with the church about purchasing the building, Powell and Fischer said, but the church is not interested in selling the property as it wants to keep the lot for future expansion. Before the demolition request in February, Fischer added, two groups considered purchasing the property but those groups backed out of the sale.

Many historic preservationists argued Monday the property at 901 Swifts Highway was historic while members of Trinity Lutheran Church argued the building was just old — not historic.

Constructed in 1900 by Charles and Martha Porth, the home used to house the School Sisters of Notre Dame, who taught at Helias Catholic High School from the 1950s-70s.

Historic Preservation Commission member Donna Deetz said the commission denied the demolition request because the property was more than 100 years old and had important historical significance. She added there were "no major detriments" that would prevent rehabilitation and there weren't any future plans if Trinity Lutheran Church demolished the building.

Deetz said the council entrusted the Historic Preservation Commission to deny demolition permits when it passed the demolition ordinance in January 2018.

"This is the process that has been charged with Historic Preservation Commission and that's what the commission followed," said Deetz, who also serves as HCJ president. "Unless more information is provided, then their decision should stand."

The property falls within the boundary of the Historic Southside Old Munichburg District and Neighborhood Plan. It is not listed or designated as a local landmark and does not fall within a local historic district or the National Register of Historic Places, city staff's report states.

City staff recommended approval of the demolition permit in February.

This is the first time a property owner has appealed the Historic Preservation Commission's denial under the recently-established demolition ordinance, Jefferson City Neighborhood Services Manager Jayme Abbott said.