The fate of the historic Justus Ramsey House now rests in the hands of the Saint Paul City Council. At 3:30 p.m. on January 25, the council will hear property owner Moijitaba Sharifkhani’s appeal of a Saint Paul Heritage Preservation Commission (HPC) decision denying a demolition permit for the 170-year-old structure, which is located on the patio beside Burger Moe’s restaurant at 252 West Seventh St.

The HPC voted 8-1 last month to deny the permit. Sharifkhani, aka Moe Sharif, filed the appeal on December 16.

The oldest house in St. Paul

The two-room limestone structure is believed to be the oldest surviving house in Saint Paul. However, it is in a deteriorated state with a collapsed wall and a gaping hole in the roof. Historic preservationists want to see it saved at its present location or another site in the neighborhood. They are concerned that in its current state it could sustain further damage.

Among the groups pushing for the Justus Ramsey House’s preservation are Historic Saint Paul, the Historic Irvine Park Association and the Little Bohemia Neighborhood Association.

Justus Ramsey House
A photograph taken last October from inside the Justus Ramsey House showed a collapsed wall and a gaping hole in the roof.

The West Seventh/Fort Road Federation land use committee on January 4 discussed how to convince other district councils in Saint Paul to oppose the demolition. Committee members fear the demolition of the historic structure could set a precedent and lead to the “demolition by neglect” of other historic structures.

Can the building be saved?

HPC staff cited the structure’s historic significance and indicated that the building can be saved. The HPC recommended that the building be secured until a more detailed analysis can be made of its condition.

Sharif, his attorney and their engineering consultants want the building to come down, saying it is a public safety risk. Staff from the city’s Department of Safety and Inspections (DSI) agreed, condemning the building due to its condition. Sharif said he has had to suspend patio service in the past due to concerns for the safety of diners.

 

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Appeal rests on several arguments

In the four-page appeal, Sharif’s attorney Brian Alton cited several reasons for granting the demolition permit. One is timing. The demolition request was filed on June 29, 2022. The HPC has 60 days to act on the request. It missed the deadline, and that means the demolition permit should be automatically approved, according to Alton.

Another argument for demolition is the contention that one city department cannot overrule another. DSI has called for the demolition of the Justus Ramsey House, citing safety concerns, while the HPC, which is within the Department of Planning and Economic Development, denied the demolition permit. Alton described the denial as “unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious.”

The appeal claims that the HPC decision had no basis in fact and that the HPC staff’s findings were speculative and not supported by evidence. The appeal cited the years of alterations that have negated the Justus Ramsey House’s architectural and historic merit, and that its demolition would not harm the character or historical significance of any surrounding buildings.

The appeal also cited the conflicting consultant reports on whether or not the house can be repaired.

— Jane McClure

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