Met Council: comp plan ‘appears’ complete

While Metropolitan Council representatives could not categorically confirm by the Review’s press time that Lake Elmo’s latest submission of its comprehensive plan was complete, they indicated that it no longer seemed to be missing major components.
The document, over which the city and regional planning group have sparred since the Met Council rejected Lake Elmo’s long-term plan in 2002, was submitted for the third time in the last five months on Jan. 31, one day prior to the deadline Chair Peter Bell imposed in a Jan. 20 letter to Mayor Dean Johnston.
“It appears that the Lake Elmo plan is complete for review purposes,” Met Council Public Affairs Director Steve Dornfeld said on Feb. 6. “I can’t say 100 percent that it’s complete, but it appears that it’s complete.”
From here, the Met Council staff that deemed Lake Elmo’s plan incomplete in September 2005 and again at the beginning of January will begin its second phase of review by evaluating the plan for content. According to City Planner Chuck Dillerud, the Met Council has 60 days to complete that review after it has officially declared the comprehensive plan complete.
Dillerud said he had received verbal confirmation that the plan was complete on Friday, Feb. 3 but the city had not received written confirmation at press time.
“That’s what I understand verbally, but I have nothing in writing,” Dillerud said.

The leadup
If the city had not met the Feb. 1 deadline with an acceptable document, Bell had threatened legal action to compel the city to do so, perhaps endangering the precepts of a Memorandum of Understanding signed just over a year ago by Bell and Johnston. That agreement capped Lake Elmo’s potential 2030 population at 24,000 and required the city to add 6,600 new housing and commercial units utilizing regional sewer lines. The document also stipulated that Lake Elmo could choose the type of housing it would accept and essentially stage its own development.
The accord was reached a month after Johnston took office and about six months after the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that the Met Council retains the authority to reject and amend Lake Elmo’s comprehensive plan.
According to communication between the Met Council staff and Dillerud, the major element missing from the city’s plan was a detailed land use plan for Lake Elmo’s Old Village area. The city had maintained that because planning consultant Bob Engstrom and the Old Village landowners were still in the process of developing a plan for the Village area, including unapproved details in the plan would be premature.
However, shortly after Bell’s ultimatum, the council voted unanimously to include a preliminary map and conceptual plan for the Village area that Engstrom and his team had developed. Still, Johnston said, once the city receives official word, it would begin working closely to solidify more about the Old Village area plan.
“We’re hoping to have an agreement with the landowners in these next 60 days so we can include that in the final version of the comp plan,” Johnston said. “This gives us two months to get that brought together.”
Following the August 2004 State Supreme Court decision, Lake Elmo had nine months to complete its comp plan revisions to the Met Council’s satisfaction. After months of work with the city Planning Commission and residents, Lake Elmo missed its June 15 deadline and requested an extension, which the Met Council granted for Sept. 30.
However, several conditions were attached to that extension, including requirements for the city to meet certain density goals every five years or be charged a “wastewater inefficiency fee” for every sewered unit that went unused. The city was reluctant to include such conditions in its comp plan, but ultimately conceded after adding language to the document aimed to protect the guidelines of the Memorandum of Understanding against economic shifts.
“We’ve really been quibbling about whether we wanted to accept the extension agreement,” Johnston said of the recent comp plan issues. “(But) we’ve gotten smarter about not getting sucked into a process that’s counter-productive.”

Next step
If the latest submission is indeed found complete, Dornfeld said the Met Council staff would begin reviewing the plan (with which they are already very familiar) for content and would likely continue to communicate with Lake Elmo staff as part of the process. Then it would go to the council’s Community Development Committee before reaching the full Met Council.
“Usually that review ends up uncovering something that they’d like changed,” Dillerud said. “In a normal course of events, we would receive review letters during their process.”
But Dornfeld noted, as he has before, that all bets are off when it comes to Lake Elmo and the Met Council. No other city’s comp plan has been subject to so much dispute and deliberation before.
“We have always tried to mediate these things with communities,” Dornfeld said. “In this case, who knows what will happen?”

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