Jan. 11, 2021 West St. Paul City Council meeting

City Council Recap: Jan. 11, 2021

We provide these West St. Paul City Council recaps with your support.

The West St. Paul City Council met for the first official business meeting of the year and worked through a lot, including new development, ordinance tweaks, Moreland Avenue construction, and more. A yard sign ordinance and the definition of family prompted the most heated conversation.

It was the first meeting since November open to a limited public audience, though no one attended (aside from myself).

New Development

Four development projects came before the City Council, including a laundromat at the former Perkins, a car wash at the former Baker’s Square, demolition and reconstruction of Bobby and Steve’s Auto World on the corner of Marie and Robert, and a conditional use permit to allow an existing business to expand into outpatient treatment and counseling.

A number of residents have expressed frustration about the laundromat and car wash, wanting a broader range of businesses in the city. Community Development Director Jim Hartshorn noted for the former Perkins site that the city tried to reach out to restaurants, but across the board developers said the site was too small to allow for a restaurant, parking, and the drive thru that most restaurants want today.

In response to a complaint during the public hearing that the city doesn’t need more car washes, Council Member John Justen pointed out that the city doesn’t get to pick and choose what businesses come into the city, especially when they’re not asking for public money and meet all zoning requirements.

The Tumble Fresh laundromat faced some hurdles during the Planning Commission with a condition that they move the building up to Robert Street to align with the Comprehensive Plan. On Friday afternoon the applicant submitted a new design that met that condition, drawing kudos from Council. The applicant admitted that the new design actually works better for them.

All projects passed unanimously with only one negative comment from the public.

Yard Signs

During the Open Council Work Session (OCWS), the Council discussed the residential yard sign ordinance. There have been questions about what signs are allowed and Council wanted to have clarity.

The current ordinance basically allows one free-standing sign with a non-commercial message, no more than six square feet (think the ubiquitous ‘All Are Welcome’ yard sign). So if you’ve got two yard signs, you’re breaking the law.

There are some caveats and exceptions. Also, during an election there’s a bit of a free-for-all where there’s no limit on non-commercial signs. Signs are also not allowed on fences—which raises a sticky question of murals. In general, the Council doesn’t want to be in the business of regulating art, so legally it becomes an all or nothing question.

This also raises the issue of the two controversial signs that went up last year, the Black Lives Matter mural on Smith and Butler and the anti-abortion signs on Thompson and Butler. Both signs fell under the election exemption for a time, but are generally not allowed (the anti-abortion signs have been removed and the Black Lives Matter sign has until April 15 to come down [the delay is due to weather]).

The conversation went back and forth about how these ordinances are being enforced and if they should be strengthened or loosened. Last year there were five complaints and 25 compliance letters sent out with only one fine issued.

Other Items:

  • Moreland construction: The major road construction project for 2021, Moreland Avenue, came up and was quickly passed for final approval. This project last came before the Council in November when half a dozen residents complained about some of the details of the project.
  • West St. Paul brochure: The search for a new city manager is underway (current City Manager Ryan Schroeder is staying on until a replacement is found), and the recruitment brochure gives a nice overview of West St. Paul’s progress in recent years (the photo of City Council has been updated to show the newly elected members).
  • Family: A seemingly minor ordinance tweak to change the definition of ‘family’ to include domestic partnerships faced a flurry of debate. The definition is used in rental licensing and zoning ordinances, primarily to prohibit multiple families living in single family homes. Council Member Dick Vitelli didn’t see the need for the change, despite multiple explanations from other council members and City Attorney Kori Land. Ultimately, Vitelli made a motion to table the proposal to get more information, which didn’t get any seconds. Another motion approved the change, with Vitelli the lone ‘no’ vote. Council Member Lisa Eng-Sarne also advocated for including ‘guardianship,’ alongside foster care and adoption, which was included in the successful motion.
  • MLK Service Day: Council Member Robyn Gulley noted that the Residents of Color Collective (ROCC) plans to host a service day and supply drive for Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

City Council meetings are currently held on the second and fourth Mondays of each month at 6:30 p.m. You can also watch these meetings online: EDA work session, OCWS and regular City Council.

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One comment

  1. Puzzled how these signs and murals don’t fall under 1A protections…Supremacy Clause anyone? At least the restriction seems to be indifferent to political bent, but still I get a bad taste in my mouth whenever the government tries to tell citizens what they can and can’t do with their own private property. I understand our Minnesotan proclivity toward keeping feathers unruffled; however, as someone generally keen on freedom of speech protections I’d be very interested in seeing a lawsuit against the city here.

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