West St. Paul City Council meeting

City Council Recap: Sept. 27, 2021

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West St. Paul City Council overrode the mayor’s first veto, approved a liquor license and improvements to outdoor seating at El Cubano, and tweaked the Open Council Work Session (OCWS) format to be more productive.

Planning Commission and Veto Override

Last week Mayor Dave Napier vetoed a Council measure to expand the Planning Commission, require equal ward representation, and approve the appointment of Liz Gillen to Planning Commission. So the Council had an opportunity to override the veto, which they did on a 5-1 vote, with Council Member Dick Vitelli the lone no vote.

This means Gillen’s appointment is official, though the changes to the Planning Commission don’t actually go into effect, they still require the usual ordinance process, which requires multiple votes and a public hearing. All the motion does is direct staff to start that process.

Napier explained that he vetoed the motion because he wanted discussion on the topic and he doesn’t want Planning Commission appointments tied to other action. Council Member Vitelli said the action was disrespectful.

There wasn’t much response from Council. Council Member Robyn Gulley made the motion to reconsider the veto and said it was about equal ward representation. During the override vote, Council Member Wendy Berry clarified that discussion would still happen to expand the Planning Commission and require ward representation.

El Cubano and Smith/Dodd Overlay Expansion

El Cubano added outdoor seating under a special exemption during the pandemic, but has now applied for a liquor license and the outdoor seating needs an official permit. This will require some improvements to the outdoor seating, including fencing if alcohol will be served outdoors.

This did raise an issue with parking and a simple solution was to expand the Smith/Dodd zoning overlay to include some of the Forty Acres area. This allows for no parking minimums, which works for El Cubano.

But a challenge with the Smith/Dodd Overlay is that auto repair shops are a prohibited use, and both Zak’s Auto Service and Cherokee Service take issue with that. Both shops can be legal non-conforming and continue to operate as is, perform maintenance, and sell to other parties. However, expansion would be a problem. It’s a little late for Zak’s since the Smith/Dodd Overlay originally passed in 2019. The solution was to leave Cherokee Service out of the Smith/Dodd Overlay expansion.

Both the permits for El Cubano and the expansion of the Smith/Dodd Overlay passed unanimously.

Other Items on the Agenda:

  • Butler Avenue trail: A study to put trail along Butler Avenue appeared to be dead after South St. Paul pulled out and MnDOT said the Highway 52 bridge can’t support a trail. However, the county is still willing to move forward with an engineering study to see what’s possible and what the options are. Council was in favor of moving forward to see options, but there was some reticence that there’s not going to be a good solution given the small yards and tight confines of the corridor.
  • Tweaking OCWS: In an effort to make OCWS meetings more conversational and productive, a few changes are being made including dropping some of the formality, no longer taking minutes (they’re not legally required), and allowing a free flow of conversation. The meetings will still be broadcast and recorded.
  • Closed: During OCWS the Council had a closed session to discuss labor negotiation strategy.
  • More public hearings: Robert Street sidewalk snow removal contract for the coming winter and vacating an alley had public hearings and passed with minimal discussion.
  • Hispanic Heritage: The Council proclaimed Hispanic Heritage Month, September 15 through October 15.

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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