Met Council grants comp plan extension

The city of Lake Elmo was allowed an extension on submitting its revised comprehensive plan to the Metropolitan Council on July 27, but it was not without some concessions. One of which could negate all previous negotiations should the city fail to meet its new deadline of Sept. 30 and subsequent requirements during the next 25 years.

By missing its original June 15 deadline (a decision based on early negative responses from Met Council staff) the city opened itself up to the precepts of state statute 473.869, which permits the Met Council to attach "reasonable requirements and conditions" to the extension agreement.

As expected, the governor-appointed regional planning group decided to add 14 conditions into its resolution for extension approval, but the Lake Elmo City Council found a few of them less than "reasonable."

The final resolution approving the extension last week was revised after a week and a half of discussions, primarily between City Planner Chuck Dillerud and Met Council staff. But the original list of conditions was met with some concerns on the part of the city.

After receiving a draft of the resolution intended to go before the Met Council on July 15, Mayor Dean Johnston, Dillerud and City Council Members Steve DeLapp and Anne Smith met with Regional Administrator Tom Weaver and Met Council staff to discuss the conditions on July 18.

The next evening, at the regularly scheduled City Council meeting, DeLapp denounced what he considered to be "penalties" should the city fail to meet population and sewered housing unit totals every five years between now and 2030 (a January memorandum signed by Johnston and Met Council Chair Peter Bell established that the city would meet a population of 24,000 and accept 6,500 new sewer hook-ups by that year in exchange for the city’s freedom to plan and stage its development).

"This is a very serious issue and I don’t think anyone appreciates it," DeLapp said at the council meeting. "Nowhere else in the U.S. would this be happening."

At that time, the council was in agreement that the Met Council’s resolution had not taken into account potential economic climate changes that could affect the city’s ability to meet its goals in the coming decades.

"If the economy is good, we can get good houses in with the wave of our wand," DeLapp said. "But if it’s bad, we can only get Coon Rapids or Oakdale."

Johnston hesitated to label the Met Council’s conditions as "penalties," but agreed that the language was less than carefully worded and "awfully punitive" in tone. Nevertheless, the mayor continued to be diplomatic in discussing the Met Council’s point-of-view.

"From my perspective, you don’t agree to a 25-year agreement and say, ‘See you in 25 years.’ You set some milestones," Johnston said. "I understand where they’re coming from."

Terms of extension

Among the revisions ironed out by Dillerud and Weaver during the week before July 27 was an added paragraph that took into consideration changes in economic conditions. Also, the new resolution took some of the specificity out of the size of development areas ("50-acre subareas") and replaced it with "density ranges" of at least three units per acre, unless the city fails to achieve that density, in which case a range of at least six units per acre will automatically go into effect.

Also, failure to meet commitments for residential sewer connections will result in a "wastewater inefficiency fee" charged to the city to help cover the costs of unused sewer service. That charge increases from $2,600 per unused sewer unit in 2011 to $5,700 per unit in 2031.

Finally, condition "f" stated that the January memorandum could still be terminated should the city not meet its new time schedule and the Met Council could then revert back to its original plan modifications, potentially putting the city’s 2030 population at 34,000.

Following the decision, both Johnston and DeLapp felt confident that the Sept. 30 deadline would be met, and the mayor said he did not anticipate the occasionally adversarial DeLapp would stand in the way of that goal.

"It appears to me that Steve wants very much the same thing that the rest of the council wants: as rural a Lake Elmo as possible," Johnston said. "His approach is just different. I don’t know that we disagree on the objective as much as we do on how to get there."

A large majority of the Met Council representatives supported the resolution for Lake Elmo’s extension on July 27, though there were two dissenters. Council Members Peggy Leppik of Golden Valley and Natalie Steffen of Ramsey opposed the approval. Leppik asserted that she did not feel the city had established a hardship justifying the extension.

Chair Bell, however (operating on 40 hours of sleeplessness having just returned from a trip to Africa), spoke in support of the city.

"(Lake Elmo) really negotiated in good faith and we responded in kind," Bell said following the meeting. "In our approving Lake Elmo’s request for an extension, I feel that we have a very clear and detailed roadmap in what the comp plan will look like."

Although the chairman spoke optimistically about finally reaching resolution to the nearly three-year conflict between Lake Elmo and the Met Council, he alluded to the State Supreme Court decision from nearly a year ago that gave definitive authority to his group.

"We really have a legal mandate, and of course Lake Elmo wants to be responsive to the concerns that its citizens have," Bell said. "I want to be clear that we can’t drag this out any longer and I don’t think Lake Elmo wants to either."

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