Woodbury council candidates tackle crime, development, growth (W/VIDEO)Four of the five candidates answered questions on crime at the Red Roof Inn, the future of the State Farm building, Bielenberg Sports Center expansion and what their thoughts on growth and development in Woodbury.
By: Riham Feshir, Woodbury Bulletin
Woodbury City Council candidates tackled various issues last week at two separate forums held at City Hall.
Four of the five candidates answered questions on crime at the Red Roof Inn, the future of the State Farm building, Bielenberg Sports Center expansion and what their thoughts on growth and development in Woodbury.
The Woodbury League of Women Voters hosted an Oct. 9 forum where incumbents Paul Rebholz and Amy Scoggins participated along with challenger Joe Grinols.
The Woodbury Bulletin held another forum Thursday, Oct. 11, that the two incumbents, Grinols and challenger Mark Doree attended.
The fifth candidate, Mike Thissen, chose not to participate in either forum.
A hostage situation that ended with one man dead in August is still fresh on residents’ minds. The candidates were asked if what’s been done to reduce crime at the Red Roof Inn has been enough. Scoggins said time will tell.
Scoggins and Rebholz said the city has been working with hotel management to come up with a solution that would help eliminate crime.
Rebholz said people need to understand that most of the police calls to the motel are proactive measures done by the Woodbury Public Safety Department.
Calling it a “terrible tragedy” and a “complicated issue,” Rebholz said the hotel is of “conforming use under state law.”
Scoggins said she was horrified when the incident occurred.
“We all want the same thing, we want it to be safe,” she said. “We can’t just go and shut them down because we don’t like what happened there.”
Doree personalized his answer and mentioned the victim by name.
After expressing remorse and sympathy for 19-year-old Mark Henderson and his family, he said the motel wasn’t what caused the tragedy.
“The building didn’t kill Mark,” he said, adding that the clientele and activities going on that night are to blame.
Grinols said he doesn’t agree with one of the changes done since the shooting. He said it’s discriminatory to require patrons to be 21 years or older to rent a room.
“There is not much more to be done, you deal with crime as it comes,” he said.
Voters who sent questions to the League of Women Voters wondered what’s going on with the State Farm building, which is still sitting empty at the corner of Radio Drive and Interstate 94.
“Well, it’s for sale,” answered Rebholz.
The question came up again at the second forum held Thursday.
“My goal for that would ultimately be that we find someone that wants to use the property that’s consistent with the existing land-use plan,” Rebholz said.
There have been other people who were interested in redeveloping the property into retail, but Woodbury has few places to work that it’s important to maintain places to work as they are, he added.
“If we wanted to change the land-use plan and develop retail there we probably could look to do that,” Rebholz said. “I don’t think that’s the right way to go.”
Doree repeatedly said the building is a “fantastic” gateway to the city that would provide a number of opportunities for more than one tenant.
He said it would bring jobs, help out neighboring businesses and improve the economy.
If it’s possible to rezone it and allow smaller tenants instead of one big large corporation to move there, Doree said he would support that.
Grinols said it’s a private building and he would prefer to let the property owners deal with it as they see fit as long as it fits in with existing city codes.
Scoggins said it’s unfortunate the building has sat empty for a long time, but the council will continue to monitor it closely.
“Nothing has worked out yet,” she said. “None of us have forgotten about it and none of us will.”
Bielenberg Sports Center
Although all candidates said they support the community “jewel” that puts Woodbury on the map, not everyone agreed on the proposed cost of expanding the Bielenberg Sports Center.
Rebholz said the financing aspect of it is still being worked out, but he supports the continuation to invest in one of the “greatest community assets.”
But challenger Doree said he was not supportive of the $22 million price tag proposed to build a permanent structure and expand the existing building.
“I was very pleased with a $17 million upgrade to the building,” he said of the initial proposal, adding that he has a hard time justifying the increase.
Scoggins said the expansion will likely be done without raising taxes and the new features of the building will allow it to host a number of other community events in addition to sporting activities.
“People use it. People are very satisfied with it. People want to see it upgraded,” she said.
The three candidates present at the Oct. 9 forum were asked for their thoughts on a ward system.
All three, Grinols, Rebholz and Scoggins, agreed that serving at large provides more support to constituents than dividing up the city.
Rebholz said only 12 percent of the cities in Minnesota are divided up in wards and that benefits of switching to a ward system don’t outweigh the costs.
He added that with the at-large system, residents can call four council representatives at any time, rather than just one.
“For us it’s working just fine as it is,” Scoggins said, adding, “I think an at-large system makes the most sense.”
Grinols, Rebholz and Scoggins were also asked if a raise in council pay was necessary this year.
“Necessary? Probably not,” Rebholz said. “Did we do that? Yes we did.”
He said the previous council wages were significantly lower than other similar cities in the metro and that it was the reasonable thing to do.
Grinols said local representatives are not paid enough and he thought the raise was fair.
Scoggins said it was a tough thing to discuss and a tough decision to make. She agreed with Rebholz and said it wasn’t necessary but reasonable.
One of the questions on Oct. 9 touched on a retailer being added at CityWalk and whether or not Woodbury needs another mattress store.
“Mattresses must be selling like hot cakes,” Scoggins said with a laugh.
She added that retail in Woodbury is at a good place and the city can’t deny applications if they comply with city codes.
“And we shouldn’t, that would give us too much power,” she said.
Rebholz said many people think Woodbury is all about shopping, judging by what they see while driving around town.
He explained the city is divided up 50-50 retail and residential.
The city sets the land-use plan, while the market dictates what types of shops come to the city and where, Rebholz added.
Grinols said he encourages more businesses to come to the city as long as there is a good balance between retail and residential.
Doree was invited to the Oct. 9 League of Women Voters forum but was out of town on business.
Woodbury City Council members serve four-year terms. This year, Rebholz and Scoggins are running for third terms, while Doree, Grinols and Thissen will challenge for the two open seats on the Nov. 6 ballot.