WSP approves preliminary plat for new housing development

This image shows the location of a proposed housing development at the corner of Wentworth Avenue and Smith Avenue. The land, currently vacant, belongs to St. Stephen’s Church but would be sold to a developer as part of plan to subdivide the 6.6 acres into 11 lots. (submitted photo)

One of the downsides of living in a well-established community is lack of room for new growth, but West St. Paul officials say they have a rare opportunity for fresh development.

That opportunity comes in the form of a deal between a developer and St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church, located at 1575 Chartlton St., to purchase 6.6 acres of open land on the western portion of the church lot. That land would then be subdivided into 11 lots for the construction of mid to high-end homes.

The West St. Paul City Council approved a preliminary plat for the development in its Jan. 27 meeting. At the meeting, Jim Hartshorn, community development coordinator for the city, hailed the move as a rare and welcome chance for new construction in the almost-entirely developed city.

“There’s 99 percent development,” Hartshorn said. “It’s hard to find places to build new houses. And I often hear people in the real estate business say, ‘I wish there were new houses to buy in West St. Paul.’”

Sidewalk to nowhere?

The proposed development would add 11 two-story homes at the corner of Wentworth Avenue and Smith Avenue, which access coming from a cul-de-sac off of Smith Avenue. The design of the homes varies slightly; the estimated value upon completion would ranges from $400,000 to $700,000.

The area is zoned R-1B—designated for single family use— but would require an amendment to the city’s comprehensive plan, which marks the region for public or semi-public use, before it can gain final approval.

In his presentation, Hartshorn emphasized the benefit to the city’s tax base of adding the high-value homes to what is currently empty land.

“From an economic development standpoint,  considering right now you have zero (developments), you can do the math on 11 proposed properties,” he said.

Council members were generally supportive of the plans, however, several expressed concern about what the development would mean for sidewalks in the area. Currently there are no sidewalks connecting to the frontage of the proposed development; if developers were to contribute to the construction of a sidewalk to service the new homes as typically required, the pavement would simply dead end until the city eventually expanded its sidewalk network. The council dismissed this option as unsightly.

However, City Engineer Matt Saam said city staff was working out a deal with the developer to establish and escrow account or line of credit that the city could cash in when the time came to add sidewalks to the area.

“Their portion of the sidewalk would be covered,” Saam said. “We wouldn’t have to worry about assessing them in the future. But right now may not be the best time, since, again, it would look a little out of place.”

That money would carry a time limit: City Attorney Kori Land informed the council that such an agreement must carry a sunset clause so that the developer’s money isn’t held in perpetuity while the city delays sidewalk construction.

Council member Jenny Halverson said such an agreement would allay her hesitation about the sidewalk issues with the new lots.

“Setting that timeframe would be a great way to handle, rather than just having a sidewalk to nowhere,” Halverson said.

The council is expected to vote on final approval for the plat sometime in March.

Luke Reiter can be reached at or at 651-748-7815.


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