Lake Elmo challenges Met Council’s plan update

After discovering significant discrepancies between the Metropolitan Council’s annual Systems Statement and its nine-month-old agreement with the city of Lake Elmo, the City Council requested a hearing Nov. 1 to avoid getting more than they bargained for on a technicality.
Lake Elmo Planner Chuck Dillerud told the City Council that since receiving the System Statement (a comprehensive memo alerting metro cities to changes in the Met Council’s regional plans) in September, he had been working with Met Council staff to resolve two particular items.
The first inconsistency is map W-7, on page 29 of the 35-page document, a map originally found in the Met Council’s 2030 Regional Framework plan, but since rendered obsolete by the Memorandum of Understanding signed in late January by Chair Peter Bell and Mayor Dean Johnston.
That memorandum stipulated that Lake Elmo would accept the equivalent of 6,500 new sewer hook-ups over the next 25 years while tripling in population to about 24,000. But it also gave authority to the city to decide where that regional sewer service would go.
“Geographically, they essentially drew a line that encompasses two-thirds of the city running north to south and designated that ‘developing area,’” Dillerud said of the map. “The other one-third they designated ‘diversified rural’. ... Our map is quite different.”
Lake Elmo plans to introduce metro sewer to about 1,000 units in the Old Village area of town (around Highway 5 and Lake Elmo Avenue) and the bulk of the water service will go to residents and businesses south of 10th Street and north of Interstate 94. According to Dillerud, the Met Council made no errors in the number of units planned to receive metro sewer, only in the areas deemed available for it.
“The math in the System Statement matches the MOU perfectly,” he said. “It’s just the geography and classifications.”
The second objection the council had with the Met Council’s System Statement was in labeling areas not scheduled for sewer before 2030 as “diversified rural.” Dillerud said the term, as defined on page two of the System Statement, was too limiting in its allowable units per acre (one for every 10). He recommended the city request such property be designated “rural residential” instead.
“Rural residential doesn’t specify units per acres,” he said. “(Its definition) lines up well with what we have in mind”

Learning from the past
Dillerud said he did not believe the Met Council staff was trying to be covert by including the old map and classification in its System Statement. Bob Mazanec, the staffer in charge of the Lake Elmo sector, told the city planner that the map was being used for now because the Met Council had not yet approved the city’s revised comprehensive plan (which it received in early September).
In fact, Dillerud received a letter dated Oct. 13 from Met Council staff stating that it would not make the changes to the System Statement he requested until the comp plan had been reviewed and ratified. After that approval, the System Statement would be updated.
But, Dillerud was still compelled to draft a resolution requesting a hearing after he read a clause in the System Statement regarding disagreements over the document.
In the case of a dispute, the clause states a request for a hearing may be made, but must be done “within 60 days after receipt of the system statement. If no request for a hearing is received by the (Met) Council within 60 days, the statement becomes final.”
In the summer of 2004, when the state Supreme Court was reviewing the lawsuit brought against the Met Council by Lake Elmo over its comprehensive plan (a case ultimately won by the regional planning body), Dillerud remembered being asked by opposing attorneys if the city had objected to System Statement updates in 1997, prior to his tenure with the city. Because his predecessors had not objected, the changes were deemed final.
“I think it will ultimately be resolved, but we can’t let it hang either,” Dillerud said.

Lingering issues
“I think making the appeal is a procedural necessity,” Mayor Johnston said of the council’s unanimous decision. “If you ever get into an adversarial situation, you have to have those procedural things covered.”
But Steve Dornfeld, the Met Council’s public affairs director, didn’t necessarily agree.
“I think they should have been satisfied by the Oct. 13 letter,” Dornfeld said. “We’ll update the statement once we’ve reviewed and accepted the whole (comprehensive) plan. ... I think that we shouldn’t have any problem.”
The problem, according to Dornfeld, lies in the fact that the Met Council currently only has a “partial plan” from the city. He said Dillerud was aware of a few “omissions” in the document submitted in September (Lake Elmo missed a June deadline for submittal, but the Met Council granted a Sept. 30 extension).
Even though the map and land designations may turn out to be non-issues, one final discrepancy mentioned in the council’s Nov. 1 resolution is not likely to be. The System Statement refers to a metro transit park-and-ride facility it would like to locate near the intersection of Keats and Interstate 94, just north of Woodbury. It was an idea brought before the City Council over a year ago, and rejected, according to Johnston, primarily on the grounds that the location cited was currently a large holding pond.
Nevertheless, the item was back in as part of the Met Council’s 2030 plan and Dornfeld said it was not there in error.
“It’s an issue apart from the MOU and something that we have to work to resolve,” he said. “I’m not sure how, but we obviously are experiencing a lot of ridership growth in the east metro area. Our plan shows additional needs.”
Although Johnston said he was open to discussion on the issue, he believed the proposal would be in conflict with the Memorandum of Understanding.
“(The Met Council) made it very clear that (the park-and-ride) is to provide spaces for people from Woodbury and western Wisconsin,” Johnston said. “I think that it’s probably going to take five to seven acres and our MOU has other requirements for that land.”
Even though not every dispute between the Met Council and Lake Elmo is summarily resolved yet, Dillerud was optimistic that this latest one would be settled with time.
“I think (the Met Council staff) are concerned to follow the letter of the law and process regarding the System Statements and, since they have not acted on our comp plan yet, they have no basis to change that map,” Dillerud said. “We essentially agree to disagree and we’ll let the hearing process resolve it.”

Comment Here