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In West St. Paul municipal election this year there is a race in each ward for City Council and a mayor’s race. We’ve asked the candidates a series of questions to see where they stand on the issues. We’ll share one question and the responses at a time leading up to the election. See our full details on where and how to vote in West St. Paul.
Last time we asked about key issues in West St. Paul. This time we’re asking about housing:
Housing is a big need in West St. Paul and we’ve had several apartment projects come in, some more controversial than others. With affordable housing vs. market rate, potential subsidies, and tax-increment financing (TIF), how will you decide whether or not to support a proposed project?
We posed this question to all candidates (with one exception, noted below). Here are their responses:
Candidates for Mayor
Kimetha “KaeJae” Johnson
I would consider supporting a project if it upholds our prevailing wage ordinance and dedicates units to affordable housing that don’t require renters to pay more than 30 percent of their income.
West St Paul has done an outstanding job over the past several years to address the growing need for affordable housing. We have utilized tax-increment financing (TIF) as a tool to rebuild many of our blighted areas along Robert Street. However, we must strike a balance between market rate and affordable housing. I believe we have reached that balance and I would not support new projects in the next two years. We must slow down and limit any future use of tax-increment financing.
Candidates for City Council Ward 1
My decision to support any EDA project will be based on the quality and completeness of the information provided by the applicant, community feedback, public hearing testimony, and how the project fits within our city plans (2040 Comprehensive Plans, Housing Plans, etc.).
Transparency and community communication are necessary. Our EDA development approach needs to be improved. We shouldn’t expect staff, council/committee/commission members or residents to interpret an applicant’s presentation when changes are being presented at the last minute.
Business development presentations must include:
- Summary report (changes from previous versions should be highlighted and dated):
- Explain definition (and source) of business terms (e.g., affordable/workforce/market rate housing, area median income (AIM) (e.g., West St. Paul, Dakota County, metro area, etc.).
- Project summary details (e.g., business owner/developer information, location, project scope, number of housing units, rents, development costs, funding, partners, dates of construction, etc.).
- TIF details (prevailing wage details, project labor agreements, general contractor and subcontractor information).
- Documents presented at any council, committee, or commission meeting must have all current details within the presentations or agreements being presented (CUPs, zoning, finance, contracts, etc.) and those versions need to be included in the agenda materials that are distributed to the public. Any final document changes occurring during the meetings (such as conditions added by Planning, EDA, and City Council members) should be noted and the revised documents should be reposted to the city website.
A community presentation is needed for all significant business development projects. While there may not be a legal requirement to hold these events, having businesses and developers present their projects improves relationships with community members, potential employees, and customers. These events should be scheduled before public hearings are held.
Public notices need to be shared more broadly by the City. I recommend that they are posted to the city website and social media sites on the same day they are released to the Pioneer Press. These notices should also be shared via email and text (similar to how agendas are communicated).
I will look at each project and determine if it best for our residents and our community. I voted for and supported the 2040 Comprehensive Plan that allows for denser housing options all along Robert Street. We have approved a wide range of housing options that fits within our planning documents and recently adopted Housing Plan. At only five square miles, West St. Paul must increase its density in order to strengthen the tax base and add new residents. I will work to uphold our Comprehensive Plan as we continue to look for projects that fit within that strategic framework.
Candidates for City Council Ward 2
There are various factors that go into it. Unless there is something specific in front of me that is a question that is impossible to answer.
It is little secret that I have been concerned about the Dominium Development project at Signal Hills, as well as about the Roers project at Wentworth and Robert—in particular, in both cases, I am concerned about the size and length of the TIF, and the meaningful community engagement leading up to important decisions about the projects.
I live a block from Signal Hills. Like most people in my neighborhood, I am ready to see new life on the site. The questions I keep coming back to—about these and other upcoming development projects—are who benefits and who decides? Is this a project that benefits our whole community or the developer, and who decides what that means?
What I am hearing from people in our community is that they are concerned about the effects on our neighborhood—especially environmental impact, pedestrian safety, and traffic—and that they have not felt heard. What I am hearing from folks in the building trades is that we are overpaying.
The resources that we are giving to Dominium, Roers, and other developers could be used to update our sidewalks, roads, bike trails, and parks, and build a much-needed community center.
Tax-increment financing—TIF—is a powerful tool that we can use to bring the things that we want and need to our community. But we need a more holistic approach—one that will ensure when we are making decisions that impact our whole community we are getting feedback and ensuring that the that the answer to “who benefits and who decides” is us.
Candidates for City Council Ward 3
The current and recent opportunities West St. Paul has had regarding housing development have included a healthy mix of workforce, affordable, senior, and market rate apartments. Housing is drastically needed across the city, county, state, and the entire country right now. It has been critical to say yes to a mix of developments to meet the housing needs of different and changing demographics. The increase in density and the addition of new senior housing will allow some of our seniors to accomplish a goal of selling their home and moving into new and community-connected apartments, while also being able to stay right here in their hometown, West St. Paul (understanding that it may not be every senior’s goal). The projects passed the statutory tests on TIF eligibility, and they will increase the value of the property they’re on, as well as surrounding properties. There will be a reduction of blight and eventually a surge of more activity, spending, and people in our busiest commercial corridor in the city. These are things I will be looking for in proposed developments.
I’ve learned the many cities in Minnesota fight for and wish for the housing development opportunities that have come through and are on the horizon for West St. Paul. I will continue to take into account the reporting of county and state agencies on housing needs in the metro area. We have the opportunity to be a part of the solution for homelessness through the actions we take at the table. The policies we adopt should keep housing in West St. Paul affordable for those who live here and present new opportunities for people looking to join our community. I will keep all of these things in mind when making decisions regarding future developments.
(no campaign site)
[Per a request from David Meisinger in 2018 threatening to report me to the police for harassment if I ever contact him again, I did not ask Meisinger this question and therefore have no response to share.]
Vote on November 3
Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. The West St. Paul city website has details on where and how to vote. You can also vote early with an absentee ballot, either by mail or by stopping at the Dakota County offices. See our full details on where and how to vote in West St. Paul.
See our 2020 election coverage for more on where the candidates stand.
Thank you to the candidates for taking the time to respond to my questions.
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