The seven-foot high subject of a St. Paul city council zoning dispute, a marble statue of Jesus, was damaged by a fire early this morning.
The statue stood on a pedestal in Tuan Pham's back yard, a part of his catholic-based prayer garden, according to Kare11. Pham, 75, had custom ordered the replica of the 105-foot Christ of Vung Tau statue from his native Vietnam.
At 10 feet away from the Mississippi River bluff line, the marble Christ was 30-feet too near. The St. Paul City Council voted 5-2 on Wednesday to uphold a zoning board decision which would not allow Pham a variance for the statue.
Early this morning Pham and his wife awoke to find a pile of lighted boards gathered at the base of the statue, the Star Tribune reported. The fire was put out with minimal damage to the statue.
Joe Soucheray for the Pioneer Press pointed out that Pham's Jesus is not the only stature violating the 40-foot bluff line rule; a statue on the corner of Prospect Boulevard and Stryker Avenue, about 8 blocks from Pham's (and seemingly on the public boulevard) stands as close as or closer to the bluffs.
Also, if the 40-foot setback rule truly applied to "any material change in the use of the land", as council member Kathy Landry commented, then it would also have to apply to such things as benches.
Pham believes that the fire was an act of arson, related somehow to the current legal actions, the Pioneer Press reported. (It would not be the first time the statue was targeted. Not long after Pham had it put up last fall, someone shot it with a paintball.)
Pham fled Vietnam, where he said he had been prosecuted for his Catholic beliefs, according to Kare11.
"This is certainly not the part of the American dream he was looking for," said his son-in-law, quoted in the Star Tribune.