There’s No Parking Emergency at West St. Paul’s Garlough

[This post originally appeared on my blog.]

On Monday, Nov. 26, the West St. Paul city council considered a site plan for construction at Garlough Environmental Magnet School as part of the 2018 school district bond referendum improvements. In addition to classroom and facility additions, the plans include adding a second driveway and expanding the southern parking lot to create a separate drop off/pick up loop, a change that should vastly improve morning/ afternoon congestion and safety issues.

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The Garlough site plan, showing the separate bus loop and parent drop off/pick up loop.

But the city council failed to approve the site plan over concerns that Garlough doesn’t have enough parking.

The decision seemed to be based on the complaints of a few disgruntled residents upset that people park on a public street over the facts of the current parking situation at Garlough:

  • Garlough currently has 82 spots for 52 employees.
  • West St. Paul ordinances require Garlough to have 69 spots.
  • The construction plans will boost parking capacity to 86 spots.

Here’s the Garlough parking lot on a typical day (10:39 a.m. on a Wednesday):

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7 empty parking spots at Garlough

Here are seven empty spots in the southern lot. I counted a total of 24 empty spots.
My kids have been attending Garlough since 2011. I’ve never had a problem parking at Garlough during the day.

With that many parking spots open on any given day, where’s the parking emergency?

Council member Ed Iago looked at the plans and suggested the school square off the northeast parking lot to add six to 10 additional spots. Iago said approving any plan without requiring additional parking would be “foolish.”

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Garlough’s beloved Chipmunk Park with a tree fort

The area he recommends paving is mostly grass with four to five trees. It’s also directly adjacent to forest and the school’s beloved Chipmunk Park. If the current parking lot were extended straight north, it would likely be within a foot or two of the tree fort at the center of Chipmunk Park. Some adjustments could likely be made to save the tree fort, but Iago’s suggestion would still be putting a parking lot within feet of where kids play.

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Red line showing how close parking lot is to Chipmunk Park’s tree fort; the red line shows the current northeast parking lot extended to Kraft, and you can see the tree fort directly to the right.

Paving over Chipmunk Park is an exaggeration of what Iago suggested, but not by much. Some parking could probably be added in that vicinity, but it would require paving grass and losing trees at an environmental school. It might also require a retaining wall or other expensive work as there’s a five or six foot drop to Kraft Road.

But why do all that when parking isn’t even an issue at Garlough?

The West St. Paul city council attempted several motions but couldn’t get enough votes to pass the site plan for Garlough. Ultimately they decided to continue it to the Dec. 10 meeting when the full council should be in session (two members were absent on Nov. 26). Which means we have the opportunity to weigh in.

Here’s where the current council members stand:

  • Council member Ed Iago, whose term is done at the end of the year, refused to consider approving the site plan unless it required more parking.
  • Council member Anthony Fernandez also wanted more parking, insisting on a specific number in the range of six to 10 additional parking spots.
  • Council member John Bellows, whose term also ends this year, was willing to consider recommending the school add more parking but not require it, though that measure failed when Iago and Fernandez voted no.
  • Council member Dick Vitelli supported the plan as proposed and said forcing the school to add parking was “baloney” (“to use the proper term,” he said).
  • Council member Dave Napier, who served as mayor pro tem in this meeting and will assume the mayorship in January, expressed confidence that the redesigned parking lot changes would alleviate issues on Kraft Road.
  • Council member Bob Pace was absent for the Nov. 26 meeting.
  • Mayor Jenny Halverson, whose term ends this year, was absent for the Nov. 26 meeting. (She would not have a vote on the site plan unless there’s a tie.)

Approving Garlough’s site plan without additional parking requirements means getting Pace on board and convincing Bellows to stick with recommending and not requiring additional parking, or convincing Fernandez or Iago to change their minds.

You can contact the city council directly. Or check out the data one Garlough parent tracked about parking usage,  and consider signing the petition.

In the recent past when a few disgruntled neighbors have held up the school district plans, it hasn’t gone well. The bond referendum passed overwhelmingly and supporters have not been shy about showing up and backing the school district. Garlough also has a history of vocal support, such as the failed 2015 proposal to put a water tower in Garlough Park.


City Council Report on Garlough Site Plan (PDF)
Planning Commission Report on Garlough Site Plan (PDF) (It’s worth noting that the Planning Commission approved the site plan unanimously on Nov. 20.)
ISD 197 construction details for Garlough
Watch the Nov. 26 West St. Paul City Council meeting (You can use the links to skip ahead to the relevant portion—it’s item 10F.)