City council approves Cemstone site in SSP

The South St. Paul City Council is opting for substance over style in an effort to spark development in the city’s Interstate 494 corridor.

In its July 1 regular meeting, the council approved a conditional use permit that will allow Cemstone Product Manufacturing to operate a truck maintenance facility at 501 E Richmond St., despite concerns that the facility’s industrial aspect will be inconsistent with desire for lighter, more aesthetically-pleasing development in the corridor -- as called for in the city’s comprehensive plan.

City staff originally recommended denial of the permit at a June 5 planning commission meeting because of deviations from the desired type of development, such as the outdoor storage of vehicles, equipment and rubble. However, Cemstone gained the endorsement of city staff by revising its site plans to include fencing and outbuildings to enclose storage, as well as aesthetic flourishes such as adding additional windows to the main building and landscaping around parking areas.

The Richmond Street site will be used to refuel, clean and repair cement mixer trucks. The site will house a 12,000-gallon tank for diesel fuel; however, Cemstone officials say they plan to transition the fleet from diesel to natural gas in the next few years. The new site will replace one of the company’s older facilities on Minnehaha Avenue on the East Side of St. Paul.

Wait for better?

Despite Cemstone’s efforts to meet the city’s expectation for the corridor, Council member Todd Podgorski expressed concern at the meeting that the city was selling itself short with Cemstone. Podgorski suggested the council grant the company an interim use permit instead of a conditional use permit to operate on the site, which would allow the council an opportunity to reassess the possibilities when the permit came up for renewal.

“I just worry that we’re not getting enough value for the future piece of land there,” Podgorski said. “I have high standards for the area and the community and I just wonder if this is the best standard we could get if we waited.”

However, both Tim Becken, vice president of operations at Cemstone, and Peter Hellegers, city planner, told the council it was unlikely the company would be willing to invest in the renovations -- about $5 million worth by Becken’s estimation -- if it didn’t have the security of a conditional use permit.

Mayor Beth Baumann also questioned whether waiting for more refined development would be in the city’s best interest financially.

“Are we going to keep hoping that something better is going to come along and have a lot of vacant property down there, or are we going to put something that’s solid with a company that’s willing to put some money into it and let this property transition?” Baumann asked. “I think it’s time for us to stop waiting for better things.”

‘Excellent opportunity’

Becken told the council he anticipated the South St. Paul location would employ from 50 to 60 people when fully staffed, with most salaries in the $25- to $30-an-hour range. He said his company, which is based in St. Paul, is family-owned and committed to each community where it builds facilities.

Becken said the purchase of the Richmond Street location became necessary as the company outgrew the limited footprint of its Minnehaha Avenue property. The new repair facility will also incorporate more computer diagnostics for truck and equipment repair.

“We’re looking for a new site to do a higher level of maintenance,” Becken said. “The trucks have gotten a lot bigger and the building hasn’t.”

Council members Tom Seaberg and Dan Niederkorn both described the Cemstone project as a financial boon for the community that would benefit both the city and skilled workers in the area.

“I think this is an excellent opportunity for South St. Paul,” Niederkorn said. “I appreciate the fact that you guys are making that investment and I understand why you wouldn’t want to do an IUP.”

After discussion, the council unanimously approved Cemstone’s conditional use permit.

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

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