Met Council grants comp plan extension

After debating for a large portion of what proved to be a five-hour plus meeting on June 21, Lake Elmo City Council members approved four resolutions regarding their missed deadline for turning in the city’s comprehensive plan to the Metropolitan Council.

The next day, upon submission of those resolutions by city staff, the Met Council accepted the city’s terms, though it reserves the legal right to add "reasonable conditions" to an extension of the city’s deadline.

The only opposing vote on those four resolutions came from Council Member Steve DeLapp, who was gaveled down by Mayor Dean Johnston for speaking out of order for much of the discussion. DeLapp was reprimanded by other council members for making what they considered to be personal affronts regarding their motivations and decision-making capabilities.

"You people are doing a lot of damage to the city of Lake Elmo and you don’t seem to care," DeLapp said to his colleagues after much of the voting had taken place around midnight on June 22.

Big decisions

Chief among the resolutions passed that evening, was a request for an extension on submitting the city’s 25-year comprehensive plan to the Met Council for review, having missed the June 15 deadline ordered by the Minnesota Supreme Court last August.

In addition to passing that motion unanimously, the council agreed 5-0 to defend its prerogative on what to do with any leftover metropolitan sewer hook-ups post 2030, as outlined in a memorandum ratified by both entities in February. The Met Council communicated a desire to tie performance standards to the anticipated surplus of 1,725 residential sewer units at a June meeting between the two groups.

But, the City Council also decided 4-1 to amend two aspects of the comp plan draft - originally submitted to Met Council staff May 11. First, the city will accelerate the utilization of its municipal sewer connections by approximately one year and secondly, an additional 500 dwelling units will be added to the overall development plans between now and 2030.

These decisions followed two meetings, on June 13 and June 20, between the former negotiation team of Johnston, City Administrator Martin Rafferty and City Planner Chuck Dillerud (with the addition of Council Member Anne Smith) and Met Council Chair Peter Bell, Administrator Tom Weaver and other staff, intended to clarify conflicting interpretations of February’s memorandum.

Lake Elmo decided not to submit its comp plan draft (which it and the Planning Commission had approved in May) after receiving an eight-page response from the Met Council staff citing perceived flaws or unacceptable figures. The city’s rationale was to save money on engineering work that would begin following a submission, only to be wasted should the Met Council have ultimately rejected the plan.

The dispute began nearly three years ago when the governor-appointed Met Council rejected the city’s comp plan feeling it would not meet the needs for expected regional growth of about 1 million people by 2030.

But the end may indeed be in sight now that Met Council reps affirmed the four resolutions, including the defense of post-2030 sewered units, according to Johnston.

"The Met Council and the City Council both said that we are not going to renegotiate anything," Johnston said. "We were only going to clarify. The City Council gave Chuck (Dillerud) and Marty (Rafferty) the authority to negotiate the extension. ... The Met Council has accepted our terms."

Late-night deliberation

Those terms were reached at the city level under heated debate on June 21. Although the entire council supported the request for an extension and the opposition to performance standards on its leftover sewer hook-ups, additional construction and increased staging dominated the conversation.

The city had opted to plan its development over the next 25 years with math that would allow for less overall construction than the Met Council had outlined in its regional framework document. That planning called for an average of 2.91 persons per dwelling unit (PPDU), as opposed to the Met Council’s preferred 2.53 (a difference of about 1,200 units).

Dillerud explained that it had been suggested to the city at the June 20 meeting that a "reserve" of additional housing could be created in case the city was not meeting expectations come 2015 but to be done away with if it was.

Although the proposal sounded appealing to DeLapp who argued strongly for it, other council members and staff were dubious at the potential future increase such a reserve might allow.

"This isn’t a bluff," Smith told DeLapp during the debate. "Do you want an open door or a closed door (on more development)?"

Ultimately, the majority of the council chose to increase development by 500 units (which would essentially achieve a more acceptable PPDU number of 2.75), though they saved the decision for where those units should go until their next meeting. The additional units will prevent the creation of a future reserve.

Similarly, DeLapp opposed slowly increasing the utilization of metropolitan sewer from what was agreed upon in the city’s comp plan draft. Rather than waiting five years after the sewer became available to begin "hooking up," city staff recommended the city only wait four years, in order to meet Met Council expectations.

DeLapp suggested an alternative that would require the residents of the Cimarron mobile home community to receive metro sewer, believing those numbers would suffice for the Met Council, but hoping that the change in the regional government body’s make-up over the next 10 years might render that requirement null and void before its time.

Other council members disagreed, feeling that it was unfair to potentially force one neighborhood into accepting sewer but not others.

Finally, the council gave Rafferty and Dillerud the authority to negotiate their accepted resolutions and the terms of the city’s extension with the Met Council by a vote of 3-2 (DeLapp, again, opposed, as did Smith, saying she wanted to be present at such negotiations). According to Johnston, the meeting between city staff and the Met Council only lasted for about an hour on June 23.

The City Council will revisit the comp plan and their extension timeline at its next meeting in July.

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