City Council Recap: August 31, 2020

Thanks to Cherokee Service for their support.

This week West St. Paul’s City Council approved the final steps for two major apartment projects.

Apartment Projects Approved

The two big items on the agenda were the proposed apartment projects at the former Kmart site and Town Center One. Tax increment financing (TIF) was approved for both projects tonight. This should be the last hurdle for both projects to move forward.

Both projects had public hearings and there were half a dozen comments between the two projects, though some people noted problems getting through the call-in line. Mayor Dave Napier apologized for the technical problems and waited longer for calls on the next public hearing.

Most of the concerns dealt with the amount of the TIF and the size of the projects.

Kmart Apartments

Drawing of proposed apartments at former K-mart site in West St. Paul

This apartment project at the former Kmart and Signal Bank sites includes a 247-unit, five-story, senior housing building and a 146-unit, four-story, workforce housing building. The $122 million project is getting $5 million over 16 years in TIF funding.

Council Member John Justen was the lone no vote on the TIF amount, noting that he’s not opposed to the specifics of the project, but “I do continue to object to our prevailing wage ordinance having been used to justify a significant increase in the TIF.” (We’ve previously detailed some of this earlier debate.)

Construction is expected to begin before the end of the year.

Town Center One

View of the proposed apartment on the corner of Robert and Wentworth in West St. Paul.

This 192-unit, five-story, market-rate apartment project on the corner of Wentworth and Robert includes 1,700 feet of retail and a public dog park. Known as Town Center One, the $28 million project is getting $3.82 million over 18 years in TIF funding (a slight increase form the original proposal, due to increased acquisition costs).

Construction should begin before the end of the year, to be completed by the end of 2022.

Other Notes:

  • Small business grants: Any businesses that have been impacted by COVID-19 have until September 4 to apply for CARES Act grants through West St. Paul. Currently 13 to 14 businesses have applied. First priority goes to restaurants and bars.
  • Pond treatment: The City Council addressed pond treatment during the Open Council Work Session (OCWS). The city offers a cost sharing plan for residents who live next to a pond and want to treat it. Currently two ponds are taking advantage of that. Mud Lake also came up, though it’s entirely surrounded by city land, so there’s no option to cost share. Mayor Napier would like to see more development at Mud Lake and wants our committees to look at it and think bigger.
  • Bus rapid transit: During the OCWS the Council briefly discussed distant plans for a bus rapid transit (BRT) route along Robert Street. The route is being considered by the Met Council, but we’re likely not in the first tier of routes to be funded. Discussion also included light rail, though the only option for light rail would be along Highway 52.
  • Art Park donations: The City Council accepted two donations for the Art Park project from local businesses, Mike’s Butcher Shop and Pace’s Tire and Service Center. The project needs to raise another $500 and you can donate through GoFundMe. Council Member Lisa Eng-Sarne encouraged folks to participate in the upcoming project events to help create the mosaic sculpture.
  • 1010 Dodd: The triangle at the corner of Smith and Dodd came up for discussion as the fence along the south side of the property is in dispute. The fence was added without a permit and actually placed on city land. The new homeowner wants to purchase the land but there’s some debate over whether 10 feet of land should be sold or some sort of easement/encroachment deal reached. Council Member Dick Vitelli was adamant that we should sell the land and turn the triangle into a parking lot, an idea that’s been rejected before for being too expensive and not actually providing many parking spots. There is an idea to turn the triangle into a temporary community garden, though it lacks funding.
  • Cable franchise: After five years of debate, a new cable franchise was renewed with Comcast. It’s pretty technical, but the short version means Town Square Television and other community access channels will be upgraded to high definition and have the funds to upgrade equipment (which is especially important given all the broadcasting of public meetings).
  • Restaurant loses: During the EDA meeting the council members were excited to see so much development happening at once. Mayor Napier echoed that, but also commented on the loss of Perkins and Baker’s Square. He noted that Perkins has been a staple in the community, and he used to work there as a bus boy a long time ago. There are no immediate plans for either space, though there are some leads and Napier is hopeful something new will come in.

City Council meetings are currently held on the second and fourth Mondays of each month at 6:30 p.m. (though note that the August meetings were pushed back one week). You can also watch these meetings online: OCWS, regular City CouncilEDAEDA work session.

You can support West St. Paul Reader to keep these City Council recaps coming.

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