West St. Paul City Council meeting

City Council Recap: Nov. 8, 2021

Thanks to Southview Animal Hospital for their support.

West St. Paul City Council swore in a new police officer, limited tobacco shops, implemented Robert Street Renaissance Plan changes, and discussed safety concerns at Emerson Park.

Safety at Emerson Park

During the Open Council Work Session (OCWS), a lengthy presentation and discussion covered safety at Emerson Park and a proposed all-way stop at the Arion and Gorman intersection next to the park. The presentation covered traffic protocols and what’s effective and what isn’t to slow traffic and increase safety—details that are relevant across the city.

The analysis showed that Arion and Gorman is not a good candidate for an all-way stop given the relative low quantity of traffic and the lack of accidents in the past 10 years. Unnecessary stop signs can actually encourage a lack of compliance, making the intersection more unpredictable and potentially less safe. The city will continue to monitor the traffic with the opening of the nearby Dominium apartments in the next year. One potential solution is a striped crosswalk and pedestrian crossing sign.

Council Member Robyn Gulley, who lives across the street from Emerson Park, pushed back on the recommendations and argued for making any kind of improvement, noting the many young children who play at the park’s playground, which is situated less than 20 feet from the intersection. She said residents have been asking for this for years. Multiple residents called in during the regular meeting to support a stop sign.

The concern about kids running into the street shifted the discussion to the playground and potentially adding a fence or other barrier to minimize potential danger. Ultimately Council agreed to have the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee consider the issue and come up with recommendations.

Gulley continued to insist on immediate changes, suggesting the city could add a stop sign in days, while other changes would take months or more.

There’s a missed opportunity here as the simplest fix could have been done this summer when the new playground was installed. Emerson Park has plenty of open space and the playground could have been shifted away from the intersection cheaply and easily.

New Police Officer

Mayor Dave Napier swore in a new police officer for the second meeting in a row, bringing the total to three new police officers on the force. Antonio Cortez grew up in South St. Paul and has a cousin on the force, longtime officer Jose Marrero. This hire restores the department to full force after several retirements and again expands the number of people of color serving in the West St. Paul Police Department.

Robert Street Renaissance Plan Changes

Three zoning amendments were passed unanimously that bring city code in line with the Robert Street Renaissance Plan. The changes reduce building setbacks, require a percentage of buildings to front Robert Street, and reduce parking minimums. All of the changes are geared to make Robert Street more consistent and pedestrian friendly.

There were no comments during the public hearing.

Other Items on the Agenda

  • Limiting tobacco shops: The city unanimously passed a measure creating a new specialty tobacco license and limiting it to two such establishments in the city. This move comes as other cities are outright banning specialty tobacco shops and there’s a potential for them to move to West St. Paul. No one spoke during the public hearing.
  • Sign ordinance: In a stop gap measure after a judge invalidated part of the city’s sign ordinance, the Council passed the first reading of a tweak to restore the one sign limit for temporary signs in residential yards. The Council will address bigger picture changes to the sign ordinance in the future, but wanted to return to a baseline in the interim.
  • Planning Commission: The first reading of a change to expand Planning Commission from seven to nine members and encourage ward representation passed unanimously and with no discussion. The issue has been hashed out repeatedly since the measure was vetoed and overturned a few months back.
  • Assessments: At the assessment hearing at the last meeting, residents at the intersection of Moreland and Charlton complained about being hit with assessments for both road improvements in recent years. Council agreed to adjust their assessment accordingly and will look at the assessment policy again to ensure they can avoid these issues in the future.
  • Staff benefits: Council reviewed and approved the 2022 employee benefit plan, which includes some improvements to the employee health plan that gives city employees more options and potentially lower costs.

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 meeting and OCWS online.

Here’s the Council video recap from ward 2 Council Members John Justen and Robyn Gulley.

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

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