July 11, 2022 West St. Paul City Council meeting

West St. Paul City Council Recap: July 11, 2022

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While the state legislature opened the door on edibles and other hemp-derived products, West St. Paul City Council shut the door with a temporary moratorium while they work out regulatory issues. The Council also approved townhouses on the former golf course on a split vote.

Marijuana Moratorium

West St. Paul City Council instituted a moratorium on any expansion of sales of marijuana related products after the legislature surprised everyone with a partial legalization. The law, which went into effect July 1, makes products derived from hemp, including edibles, beverages, and more, legal without usual local regulations about when and where they can be purchased.

The city’s moratorium doesn’t impact stores already selling the products, but does stop any further expansion. The city will develop a licensing and regulatory framework—with an eye toward full marijuana legalization—to allow the products within certain guidelines. The moratorium expires in a year or whenever new ordinances are passed, whichever happens first.

Thompson Square Townhouses

The bulk of the Council and Economic Development Authority meetings covered the proposed 58-unit townhome development on the east end of the former golf course. The project’s biggest challenge is the contaminated soil in the area that needs to be remediated. Anywhere from two to 16 feet of soil need to be removed and refilled, at an estimated cost of $1.27 million. As a result, the city is effectively selling the land for $1 and the developer, M/I Homes, is handling the cleanup. That soil cost also requires a certain density to make the project feasible, which was one of the main sticking points.

“This is a cookie cutter, money maker for M/I,” said Council Member Dick Vitelli. “We’re selling our city short.” Vitelli argued for less dense single-level units that are often in demand by seniors. But with the soil issues those units are economically feasible. Vitelli argued the city should take on the expense of soil remediation itself. Vitelli was silent last October when the project was initially proposed, and while he did voice his concerns in November, he still voted for the development agreement. This time around he voted against the project.

“I think this could be a good project,” said Council Member Lisa Eng-Sarne. “It’s not perfect, but I don’t know if we’ll find a perfect project.”

City Manager Nate Burkett added that doing single-level townhomes would require a city subsidy. “This is best possible outcome relative to the financial situation on anything we can do here,” he said.

While the vote on the site plan, rezoning, and platt was 5-1, Vitelli was joined by Council Member Robyn Gulley in voting against the development agreement. Gulley asked if the prevailing wage ordinance applied, and had reservations when she learned it didn’t because there’s no city subsidy. A representative from M/I Homes didn’t want to commit to prevailing wage reporting requirements. Council Member John Justen expressed his support for prevailing wage, but noted the city had no legal way to require it. The development agreement ultimately passed on a 4-2 vote with Vitelli and Gulley voting no.

Other Items on the Agenda

  • Citizen comments: Two residents complained about conditions at Harmon Park with overflowing trash cans and locked bathrooms. They both offered to help and city officials said it’s been a staffing issue.
  • Explore West St. Paul Days: Staff updated Council on the upcoming Explore West St. Paul Days events planned for August during the Open Council Work Session (OCWS). A lack of interest has led to canceling the Art, Cultural, & Environmental Fair on midday Saturday—including the call for sculptures. Groups that did sign up will be invited to participate in the city’s open house on Thursday evening. The city is still looking for parade entries and people to join the city-wide garage sale.
  • Reorganization: City staff proposed reorganizing the Community Development department and effectively moving code enforcement up to building inspection. The two roles often cover the same thing, and with more rental units there’s a greater need for building inspectors. There is some additional cost with an extra full-time employee, but there are also cost savings with a grant and sharing the services with other cities. The biggest issue is increasing the depth of staff so inspectors are always available. Council responded positively during the OCWS discussion and this will be brought forward officially in the future. Fun note: Of the 297 code enforcement complaints received by web, email, or phone, 43% are unfounded.
  • Library presentation: Wentworth Library Branch Manager Jade Cabagnot shared a presentation on the library’s summer services:
    • 108,082 visits last year, 397,000 items checked out, 9,944 people attended programs.
    • Now open Sundays year round from 1 to 5 p.m.
    • Storytime has returned on Wednesday mornings from 10:30 to 11:15 outdoors.
    • No longer charging overdue fines on all kids and youth materials. This has resulted in increased checkouts, visits, lost materials returned, and people who stopped using the library coming back.
    • Free use of 3D printer, Chromebooks, and internet hotspots.
    • Wentworth Library is hosting Mighty Machines on Thursday, July 14 from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. It’s an opportunity for kids to check out touch, climb inside, and explore trucks and other large equipment.
    • The River-to-River Greenway has increased access and traffic to the library.

You can watch the City Council, OCWS, and EDA meetings online. You can also watch the video recap with Ward 2 Council Members Robyn Gulley and John Justen.

Learn more about how city council works with our Guide to West St. Paul City Council.

Thanks to our members for enabling us to do these city council recaps. Join them and support local news in West St. Paul.

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