Oct. 28, 2019 West St. Paul City Council meeting

City Council Recap: Oct. 28, 2019

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Last night’s West St. Paul City Council meeting ran three hours and 53 minutes, the longest meeting of 2019 by far and the longest meeting in recent years. The discussion around the proposed apartment complex on the former golf course led to such a long meeting.

Thompson Apartments Approved

In attempting to redevelop the former Thompson Oaks golf course, the city has run into bad soil on the property, which is extremely expensive to remediate—in the neighborhood of several million dollars. That limits the economic feasibility of development, and has required dense development on what little soil is mostly usable.

The result was a proposed four-story, 153-unit, market-rate apartment. (Plans for the rest of the former golf course include a water reclamation project and townhomes.)

As we’ve detailed before, this project brings needed density to an area that’s been marked for multi-family housing for nearly 20 years.

But many local neighbors were not in favor of the plans. And they spoke up. The public hearing went on for nearly an hour and forty minutes (much like the lengthy Planning Commission meeting about this project, which included an hour of public comment.)

Opposition to the project included traffic and safety concerns, the scale of the project, the impact to local property values, and more.

Several people did speak in favor of the project, citing the need for more housing that’s positioned to take advantage of local amenities including trails, local businesses, public transit, etc.

Ultimately, the City Council unanimously approved all measures related to the project.

Traffic Accident Victim Says Thanks

Perhaps the greatest moment of the City Council meeting came during citizen comments when 15-year-old Danny Herrera approached the podium on crutches. He identified himself as one of two pedestrians struck by a car on Robert Street last week.

Rather than speak out against distracted drivers or urge the City Council to take action, Herrera simply said thank you. He was grateful for the police and EMS response and the out-pouring of community support.

If placed in his position, many of us would have taken to the podium in justified outrage. In fact (full disclosure), I did take to the podium to implore the council to take action to improve pedestrian safety.

While there are many safety measures the city can and should consider, and drivers certainly need a reminder to be mindful of pedestrians, it’s refreshing and powerful to see someone more interested in expressing gratitude.

Smith/Dodd’s Other Triangle

The City Council discussed the empty lot at 1010 Dodd during the Open Council Work Session (OCWS). After the city purchased the lot in 2015 for future economic development and demolished an existing auto shop in 2016, the site has been vacant. It was recently used as a staging area for road construction, but with that work complete the council considered what to do with the space.

The biggest challenge is that whatever is done needs to be temporary as future street re-alignment plans would use much of the lot (however, there’s no time table for those changes).

Ideas include a community garden or other landscaped green space, food truck parking, murals, and more. It’s also likely multiple ideas could work at the same time. Council Member Anthony Fernandez in particular pushed for the city to do something so it doesn’t remain an empty lot.

The issue will go to the Environmental Committee next for more ideas and discussion.

Other Notes:

  • Wentworth assessments: The assessments for the Wentworth Avenue reconstruction project that were continued from the last meeting were passed with little discussion, thanks primarily to the progress made on the project in the past two weeks.
  • St. Croix Lutheran: An expansion to St. Croix Lutheran Academy was approved that will allow more space for fine arts and increased security.
  • Massage licenses: The city approved a tweak to the massage therapy licensing that will allow more therapists to practice in the city.
  • Vacant property: During the OCWS the council discussed a vacant property registry for commercial property that will allow the city to more easily get in touch with property owners to address potential issues.

Hats off to all the residents who showed up to voice their opinions, as well as city staff and council members who were at city hall for five hours for tonight’s meetings (OCWS started at 5:30 and the Economic Development Authority [EDA] meeting ended at 10:30). EDA meetings are rarely long, but last night’s was under four minutes and a quality example of how to speed up a meeting—it’s worth watching.

Note: At 3:53, this is the longest meeting in recent years. Second place goes to the Nov. 26, 2018 meeting at 3:46. I’m basing these numbers off the Town Square TV webstreaming list, which doesn’t go back more than a year. I’ve also looked at meeting minutes in recent years, though going back farther becomes difficult due to the accuracy and quality of meeting minutes. I would guess some of the meetings about Robert Street could have gone longer.

City council meetings are open to the public and generally held on the second and fourth Mondays of each month at 6:30 p.m. You can also watch this meeting online.

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