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St. Paul Park candidates face off on development, climate at forum

Mayoral hopefuls Andrew Cison, Sandi Dingle and Patrick Downs debated at a voters forum Sept. 19. Katie Nelson / RiverTown Multimedia 1 / 2
Jeff Haggerty, Dale Roth, Jeff Swenson and Bruce Zenner faced off at a League of Women Voters forum Sept. 19. Katie Nelson / RiverTown Multimedia 2 / 2

Candidates for mayor and city council focused on senior living, business and climate change at the League of Women Voters' candidate forum Sept. 19.

The incumbent mayor Sandi Dingle faced off against challengers Andrew Cison and Patrick Downs in the Sept. 19 forum.

Jeff Haggerty, Dale Roth and Bruce Zenner are heading off against sitting council member Jeff Swenson for his seat and Greg Jahner III's seat. Jahner decided not to run for re-election.

Candidates the mayor and council seats, in separate forums, discussed their views on bringing business into the community while balancing it with the small-town feel of St. Paul Park.

Haggerty wants to see new businesses help the community.

"Bringing in other industry, whether it be small industry or large industry, finding a place for them in St. Paul Park would certainly benefit the revenue of St. Paul Park," he said. "Through influence and control we can make sure that it's good for the St. Paul Park citizens."

Swenson said he hesitates to bring in too much business and risk taking away some of the small-town feel.

"I like the idea of small business ... but I would never do anything with regard to bringing in a business that would adversely affect the residential population, because you need to know who you are, and that's who we are," he said. "We are affordable housing, a community where people can come and live ... and safely walk down the streets, and for me that's much more important than trying to bring in additional business development; I would rather see residential development."

Zenner is in favor of businesses coming in, but cautious.

"Certain businesses would be beneficial (like a) grocery store, or convenience store," he said. "We need to be careful what we'll bring in, for the traffic, for the site itself."

For anything that might come into the city, Roth said the community needs to be involved in the decision.

"People have got to want to have something, they've got to believe that this is the best choice," he said. "We need to talk to the community to see what they'd like to see. Strolling down our main street, what would draw our residents into those spaces, that's what we've really got to think about."

Mayor candidates Downs and Cison said they hope to revitalize Broadway Avenue and add some light industrial uses, and Dingle said she hopes to get the land north of the SuperAmerica developed as well.

Senior living

In addition to more business, the mayor candidates acknowledged a need for more senior living options.

Dingle said she would like to see senior living options go in at Main Street, on a lot between 11th and Pulman avenues.

"We're looking and planning to bring in some lifecycle housing for seniors ... We need to have that in St. Paul Park so that people don't have to move away just to be healthy," she said. "That's something we're definitely looking at and working toward."

Cison said the city could use senior living facilities, but the nearby availability might be the best option for many in St. Paul Park.

"My father is 71 years old and I ask myself that question every day: where's he going to go; what are we going to do; how are we going to downsize him," he said. "We do need to find a place for affordable senior living in or around St. Paul Park. Cottage Grove is doing a great job at putting in assisted living. ... I could see some of our residents moving that direction."

Downs looked at the "micro" level, saying that infrastructure improvements such as smooth sidewalks are essential for seniors to age in place.

"Being able to go to a house, to assisted living, to more hands-on care — that's great ... but again, you've got to really start thinking small, because there's a lot of barriers," he said. "Really it starts from when a person walks out the door; what do they see, how can they get around."

Climate change

Candidates were also asked about local solutions to climate change.

Cison said the council should work with the oil refinery, the city's "largest polluter." "Working with the refinery to have them run a more clean and efficient system over there, is probably the the biggest thing that we could try to do as a city to work with the refinery," he said. "If you live in town here, depending on how the wind blows, you can smell the refinery on a regular basis. Working with them to mitigate that and lower their emissions would be key."

Dingle suggested better public transit systems not only into the Twin Cities, but around the metro area, would be one of the best ways to cut back emissions.

"The carbon footprint that we put on our greenspace (and) on ourselves by putting all those cars on the road is I think one of the biggest problems with the greenhouse gasses. ... Public transit, I think, is one of the ways we can really work help with those greenhouse gasses and emissions," Dingle said.

Dingle and Downs said they were in favor of the Red Rock transit corridor at the forum; Cison said they need to "continue looking into it."

Bringing more business to the city to cut back on commuters could be a benefit, Downs said.

"We've got a lot of businesses here, but we don't have a lot of residents for St. Paul Park that work in those local businesses," he said. "Making businesses more available to our local residents would reduce traffic, would reduce our carbon footprint."

The council candidates also responded to climate change, concentrating on individual changes.

"We can all do our own little part. As a city, would be tough to impose on people to change their ways, but that's what we need to do, individually, change our ways," Zenner said. "We could just work with (the refinery, 3M and) different outfits and to cut back."

The city is on the right direction to combat climate change, Roth said.

"I believe that the community garden that's right behind us is really a good place to start ... and all our other open spaces, as a city, where we can keep them well maintained," he said. "Should we develop in certain little areas there? Yes, but also we should maintain the wildlife, that rugged image of St. Paul Park's Mississippi River that we've all come to know and love."

Haggerty differed from Cison's view of the refinery as a polluter, arguing they use clean practices.

"Everyone should participate and do as much as they can, for recycling, reducing any impact they have on the environment .... Most of the companies that are surrounding us in St. Paul Park are doing their part," he said. "The refinery for example is very efficient cracking all of their petroleum, and being very efficient."

Swenson said outside of individual actions there's not much a city can do outside of lobbying change to their senators.

"It's not something you'll see across the desk of council very often if at all, so I think the best way is to influence, and that is working through our state officials and even our federal officials with regards to certain ideas ... (Council members are) a conduit, telling your state reps and senators what it is your people and your citizens are thinking and saying."

The candidates will be on the ballot for city election Nov. 7.