Lake Elmo council blocks new development for 1 year

Members butt heads over growth rate, again

New development projects in Lake Elmo are being put on pause until next summer, following the approval of a one-year moratorium by the city council Tuesday, July 7.

The measure to stall growth was adopted in a 3-2 vote, with council members Julie Fliflet, Anne Smith and Jill Lundgren voting for approval, and Mayor Mike Pearson and council member Justin Bloyer voting against.

The interim ordinance was originally on the council’s agenda at the June 2 meeting, but was tabled for future discussion and placed on the July 7 agenda by Fliflet.

Community development director Kyle Klatt said the moratorium would apply to all new residential development in areas slated for municipal sewer, and for new commercial development in “stages two and three” of the city’s land use plan.

Stage two includes new sewered-development areas located west of Manning Avenue and south of the Forest residential subdivision; stage three includes all remaining new sewered-development south of 10th Street.

Stage one includes areas north of Interstate 94 and west of Keats Avenue, where new commercial developments will not be subject to the moratorium.

“It’s impact will be for developers and landowners who haven’t gone through the approval process,” Klatt explained in a later interview.

He said all new developments that have already received preliminary, final plat, or concept plan approval would be exempt from the moratorium -- a total of a little over 1,800 housing units.

At the meeting Fliflet argued that enough new housing units had been approved to meet Lake Elmo’s lowered growth target of roughly 18,200 people by 2040.

The Metropolitan Council terminated a mandate requiring the city to triple its population to 24,000 residents by 2030 last May, known as the “memorandum of understanding.” In a 2014 interview with the Review, former city administrator Dean Zuleger said the Met Council’s decision to terminate the MOU was largely due to the city’s plans to install municipal sewer lines through the Village district and along the Interstate 94 corridor.

Lake Elmo was the only community under such a mandate in the Twin Cities.

“We need to just reassess and say, ‘where are we?’ We’ve run the calculations and with the housing units that have already been approved and the land available for [open space preservation developments], we’ve hit our target... I’m not sure this city needs to allow one more unit in, and we need time to assess that,” Fliflet said.

While the mayor said he would support a moratorium on growth in a couple areas slated for high-density housing, he predicted the moratorium would hinder commercial growth in Lake Elmo, and hurt the city by not expanding its tax base.

“I just think that this… it’s almost as if we’re trying to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory here,” he said. “[Commercial developers] are not even going to be knocking on our door. They are going to go elsewhere,” he added.

Smith told the Review Friday it was time for city officials to listen to the will of the people, take a pause on growth and reassess.

“The problem I see right now is we have almost 2,000 units in the pipeline right now. With those and all the open space acreage north of 10th Street, we may hit 18,000 [residents] without putting in any other units,” she said.

Smith said she resents recent accusations made that she is anti-growth. She said she supported just under half of the 1,824 units approved by the previous council. Smith said she supports a responsible growth strategy, and has throughout her 10-plus years on the council.

Several of the projects approved by a 4-1 majority by the past council (such as the Inwood housing development), had her as the lone dissenting vote. She contended those projects were too high in density and were contrary to the wishes of the majority of Lake Elmo residents.

“I think the council bit off more than it can chew; not thinking about the ramifications,” she said. “The people of Lake Elmo never wanted the city to be 24,000 people. We understand we have to accept some development. But we need to be thoughtful. In the last year we’ve made a lot of decisions against the will of the people.”

In an interview last week, council member Bloyer asserted the moratorium would have a negative impact on the city financially and leave it exposed to unnecessary litigation.

He said Lake Elmo landowners have pre-paid for municipal utilities like water and sewer, which have helped to stabilize water rates.

“We had the highest water rates in the metro,” he said.

Bloyer said Klatt had already received a few calls last week from landowners asking for their money back.

He said the city is still well shy of its growth targets and sees the approval of a development moratorium as both a political move and stall tactic by Fliflet, Smith and Lundgren.

“We didn’t need to take this drastic step. I think this whole thing is more politically motivated than doing what’s right for the city.”

The council member contended the moratorium would buy time for the new council majority to focus on design standards for new homes, dictating what materials could be used and the color of paint.

Bloyer said past councils imposed moratoriums on growth in order to retain the suburb’s rural ambiance, and that eventually led to lawsuits and legal penalties from the Met Council.

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

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