Lake Elmo development approved after spirited deliberation

An artist rendering shows what the home exteriors in the Easton Village neighborhood are expected to look like when construction is completed. (submitted graphic)
An artist rendering shows what the home exteriors in the Easton Village neighborhood are expected to look like when construction is completed. (submitted graphic)

The 217 housing units will be priced in $400,000 range

Following a lengthy, and at times heated debate, Lake Elmo City Council members approved a final plat for the first phase of the Easton Village residential development to be located within the Village Planning Area.

The total project calls for 217 single-family homes to be built on a 98-acre parcel, located west of Manning Avenue about one-fourth mile north of 30th Street.

The final plat for the first phase of the development approved by the council March 3 includes 71 two-story single-family homes with attached garages, which will be built just south of the Union Pacific Railway line. The remaining parcel will need to be platted at a later date.

Home prices have yet to be determined, but are expected to be in the $400,000 range.

The Easton Village neighborhood will include about 24 acres of parkland and open space, as well as a north-south collector road to be named Village Parkway. The new road will connect Highway 5 with 30th Street.

The homes will be hooked up to the Village district’s new municipal sewer line once its construction is completed.  

Motion to table denied

Early in the night’s meeting, council member Anne Smith entered a motion to postpone a vote to approve the project’s final plat to the next council meeting in order to further vet some of its many details. While the motion to table the item was seconded by council member Julie Fliflet, the motion failed in a 2-3 vote.  

A primary concern with the project voiced by council members Smith and Fliflet was that the plat did not follow the 13 guiding principles for development in the Village area set by the a previous council in 2007 - which Smith served on.  

Fliflet asked city attorney Dave Snyder and community development director Kyle Klatt how the development plan for the Easton project addresses the 13 guiding principles that were part of the city’s earlier comprehensive plan.

“It’s important for the council to know, as you sit here now, that the question before you is whether or not the final plat is consistent with the preliminary plat,” Snyder said. “In other words, your analysis and evaluation of the plat doesn’t reach all the way back to fundamental approvals of the plat.

“It simply asks you to verify whether or not the final plat in front of you is consistent with the preliminary plat,” Snyder said.

The council approved the preliminary plat for the Easton Village residential development in July of 2014, before council members Julie Fliflet and Jill Lundgren were elected to serve on the city council.

Klatt later explained that the planning commission and city staff had determined that the final plat is consistent with the city’s 2012 comprehensive plan and met at least four of the 13 guiding principles that were applicable to the development.

“The other guiding principles were generally vague and wouldn’t necessarily apply specifically to a development,” Klatt said.

Tensions rise

After a motion was made to vote on plat approval, council members voiced comments both for and against the proposed development.

Fliflet said she thought the project did not adhere to Village guiding principles, and said the downtown Village is a unique and historic area that deserves protecting of its character.

“This is a really hard vote for me because I do not and would not approve of this development if it were coming in from scratch and if this were in an earlier stage of development, and I want to make that known to the residents in the Old Village,” Fliflet said.

The council member added that she believes it’s fair to let the developer know that the council is considering implementing design standards in the Village neighborhood.

Council member Justin Bloyer responded that it was news to him that design standards were being considered by the council and said he believes the majority of the council would be against that.

“What we forget here and what troubles me is that [Easton village developer Tom Wolter] owns this property. He’s fallen within the comprehensive plan. He’s doing what we have asked of him,” Bloyer asserted.

Pearson, who along with Bloyer, favored approving Easton Village’s final plat, said the proposed project’s benefits to Lake Elmo were numerous.

“This developer, this project, adds a lot of benefits to our town, and we would be remiss if we didn’t understand that. There are benefits financially; ... benefits to paying back previous planning debt; benefits [to help stop] the flooding downtown. The benefits are immense,” Pearson concluded.

At this point, it was apparent that the final plat had enough council support for approval, and Smith was visibly upset with the realization it would soon be voted in.

“Creating and enhancing what we’ve got — that was the idea,” she said. “I’m sick. I’m sick that this is going to pass, because this is a development of 217 homes that are going to sit like a big ol’ sore thumb in the community that set out to evoke a sense of place.”

The final plat for the first phase of the Easton Village residential development was approved in a 4-1 vote with Smith in dissent.

Joshua Nielsen can be reached at jnielsen@lillienews.com or 651-748-7822.

 

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