Sept. 13, 2021 West St. Paul City Council meeting

City Council Recap: Sept. 13, 2021

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West St. Paul City Council waded into an unexpected debate over ward representation on the Planning Commission. They also approved one medical clinic and denied another, heard about city hall improvements and coming sidewalks and trails, as well as recognized Optimist Day and received a City of Excellence award for South Metro Fire’s PAR 360 program.

Council Member Wendy Berry attended the meeting virtually from the conference room out of an abundance of caution after one of their children tested positive for COVID-19.

Planning Commission Appointment

Things went awry when Mayor Dave Napier attempted to appoint Liz Gillen to the Planning Commission. Mayors have the power to appoint members, but they have to be approved by City Council. Ward 1 Council Member Julie Eastman took issue with the lack of ward representation, as ward 1 is down to a single member on the seven-member Planning Commission. Gillen lives in ward 3.

Eastman wasn’t opposed to Gillen’s appointment, but did propose expanding the Planning Commission to nine members and making equal ward representation a requirement by law. She framed all three actions—expanding to nine members, requiring equal ward representation, and Gillen’s appointment—in a single motion.

Mayor Napier and Council Member Dick Vitelli both objected to the expansion and the ward representation requirement. Napier suggested having that discussion in a future Open Council Work Session (OCWS) where they could debate the merits. Vitelli argued that planning impacts the entire city and isn’t ward specific. Napier and Vitelli both said getting the best person for the job is more important than geographic representation. Vitelli and Council Member Lisa Eng-Sarne both expressed concerns about putting multiple contentious issues in a single motion.

Eastman responded that she’s heard from multiple people in ward 1 who are interested in serving but didn’t get a chance to apply. There was some apparent miscommunication between Eastman and City Manager Nate Burkett about whether or not applications could still be accepted. The city didn’t put out a specific call for Planning Commission applicants, though applications are always being accepted (apply now).

The three-part motion eventually passed on a 5-1 vote, with Vitelli the lone no vote. During the roll call vote, Council Members Berry and Eng-Sarne both took a while to declare their vote, clearly still deliberating. Eastman’s motion seemed to take many by surprise.

While the motion did pass, officially expanding the Planning Commission and requiring ward representation will take an official ordinance, which requires a first and second reading as well as a public hearing. So this action simply directs city staff to move forward with the proposed ordinance, which will come before Council in the future before it becomes official.

This is not the first time Planning Commission appointments have caused controversy. It was the rejection of Mayor Jenny Halverson’s appointment of Samantha Green in 2018 that sparked the sexism controversy.

Sept. 18, 2021 Update: Napier vetoed this motion.

Medical Clinics Approved and Denied

Another confusing moment came during the consideration of two conditional use permits at 34 Moreland Avenue East for two medical clinics, Forward Motion Recovery and Horizon Autism Center. After Planning Commission approval, new details came to light that caused the issue to be delayed at the August 23 City Council meeting. Multiple issues included Sherry’s Dearest Treasures operating in the building as a retail store while the building is not zoned for retail, another business in the building, West St. Paul Silver and Gold Exchange, not being properly licensed, and multiple code violations. Additionally, the city attorney had concerns about people recovering from chemical dependency being in the same building as vulnerable children without adequate security and a recovery clinic being in the same building as a precious metals dealer.

The building owner appeared at Council to answer questions, but nobody from the medical clinics was there. The owner brushed off security concerns raised by Council Member Robyn Gulley, arguing that the two clinics don’t share any space and have separate entrances and parking lots. Council Member John Justen suggested a zoning change to allow retail in the building, which city staff is considering.

Ultimately City Council followed staff recommendations to deny the permit for Forward Motion Recovery and approve the permit for Horizon Autism Center, with conditions to fix a number of the raised issues.

PAR 360 Program Earns City of Excellence Award

South Metro Fire’s PAR 360 program that helps first responders address mental health challenges won a City of Excellence Award from the League of Minnesota Cities. The program has become a model for mental health response and has been rolled out to 10 other departments.

Presentation of City of Excellence award.
League of Minnesota Cities Executive Director David Unmacht presents the City of Excellence Award to Mayor Dave Napier and Fire Chief Mark Juelfs.

Executive Director David Unmacht was on hand to present the award to Fire Chief Mark Juelfs and shared a video outlining the PAR 360 program.

City Hall Renovations

A renovation is coming to city hall to address the city half of the building after the recent police renovation. The hope is the redesign will improve customer service, safety and security, storage, and efficiency.

The goal is for design to happen this fall and construction to begin in the spring. The renovations are projected to cost $2 million, though that could change in the design process. The building fund currently has $1.9 million to cover these costs.

Proposed layout for West St. Paul city hall redesign.

Thompson/Oakdale Trails

West St. Paul is moving forward with proposed sidewalk and trail on Thompson Avenue between Robert and Highway 52 and Oakdale Avenue between Wentworth and Butler. Thompson will have sidewalk on the north side and trail on the east. Oakdale will have sidewalk on the west side and trail on the east. Oakdale will also lose parking.

The Thompson project will be fully funded by Dakota County as part of the Thompson Avenue turnback. The Oakdale project will receive $1.7 million in federal funding and have an 85/15 cost share with Dakota County, resulting in a cost of about $135,000 for the city.

Construction won’t being until 2023. There will be an open house at the Thompson Park Activity Center on Tuesday, October 5 from 5 to 7 p.m.

Other Items on the Agenda

Recognizing the 50th anniversary of the Optimist Club of West St. Paul.
Mayor Dave Napier and City Council with the Optimist Club of West St. Paul.
  • Optimist Club: City Council recognized the 50th anniversary of the Optimist Club of West St. Paul and declared September 21, 2021 to be Optimist Day in West St. Paul.
  • 2022 budget: Council approved the preliminary budget for 2022 and a maximum property tax levy of 4.74%, as presented in August.
  • Vacating alleys: The city is vacating two alleys between Christiansen Avenue and Waterloo Street that don’t appear to exist and won’t in the future.
  • Disc golf: During citizen comments, Dave Lynch shared that the Garlough Park disc golf course is celebrating its 15th anniversary. Earlier this year the park added a new short course and over the weekend held a junior tournament that drew 19 players, making it the largest junior tournament in Minnesota.

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

Here’s a video recap from Ward 2 Council Members Robyn Gulley and John Justen.

We’re able to do these City Council recaps thanks to your support.

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