A long-vacant West End house that has been owned by the city since 2010 is one step closer to restoration and occupancy. The Saint Paul Board of Zoning Appeals on November 15 unanimously approved two variances for 47 Douglas St. One was for the setback of a front porch and the second was for covering more than 35 percent of the lot.

The small one-story house is being purchased by the nonprofit Historic Saint Paul. It was built in 1887 and moved to its current site in 1905. The house is on a small lot that was split off from a property on Harrison Street. Its floor plan has changed greatly over the years. A former occupant was able to provide an old photograph of the home that showed a wraparound porch. Renovation will largely restore the porch, according to Carol Carey, executive director of Historic Saint Paul.

47 Douglas
Historic Saint Paul board members Tyler Lueck, Rita Goodrich, Mary Cutrufello and Kate Pearce in front of 47 Douglas St.

The city’s zoning code allows an open porch to project no more than six feet into the required frontyard setback. The size of the lot and placement of the house make that infeasible, according to Historic Saint Paul, and BZA staff agreed. A setback variance of 5.2 feet was approved.

The small lot triggered the request for the second variance. At 1,123 square feet, the restored house will cover 44 percent of the lot, a variance of 9 percent.

The local Little Bohemia Neighborhood Association and one neighbor sent letters in support of the variances. BZA staff had recommended approval with the condition that the design of the wraparound porch complement the house.

The house was broken into and vandalized in the summer of 2016, and city staff began discussing razing the house. However, neighbors opposed the demolition.

It is rare for a house to remain under city ownership for more than a decade. The house was included in a multi-property redevelopment project discussed by city staff and the West Seventh/Fort Road Federation in 2013, but it was later removed from the project. City staff then included 47 Douglas in Inspiring Communities, a program that attempted to sell homes left vacant by the collapse of the housing market in 2008. A request for proposals was issued in 2014, but a viable developer could not be found. A developer did respond to a request for proposals in 2015, but was unable to complete the house’s rehabilitation and the project was canceled.

The house was broken into and vandalized in the summer of 2016, and city staff began discussing razing the house. However, neighbors opposed the demolition. Yet another prospective developer was found in the fall of 2017, but was unable to complete the terms of the development agreement and the sale was canceled.

Historic Saint Paul stepped forward in November 2020 to ask about purchasing and rehabilitating the property. Another private developer emerged to compete with the nonprofit’s offer. City staff looked at both proposals and chose Historic Saint Paul, which agreed to purchase the property for $1.

To help pay for the estimated $300,000 rehabilitation costs, Historic Saint Paul was awarded a forgivable loan of $120,781 from the city and a $65,000 grant from the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency.

When the house is ready, it will be sold to a family whose household income is at or below 80 percent of the Twin Cities area’s median income.

— Jane McClure

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