Lake Elmo comp plan in number crunch

The Lake Elmo City Council ended its May 10 special meeting in high spirits, having finally and unanimously approved a comprehensive plan for the city. In the weeks that have followed, however, it remains to be seen whether the Metropolitan Council — who must review Lake Elmo’s 25-year proposal to meet the population and sewer requirements established in a memorandum of understanding between the two entities — will indeed accept the document.
Although Lake Elmo’s projections still have the city reaching a population of 24,000 and adding 6,500 new residential equality capacity (REC) sewered units by the year 2030, early indications from Met Council officials are that the city’s proposed number of persons per dwelling unit (PPDU) during its major growth period may ultimately be a deal-breaker.
"The numbers in the memorandum of understanding (approved in February) relate to population and REC units, but the memorandum of understanding is to be read in conjunction with our adopted regional framework and the forecasts included in that framework," said Steve Dornfeld, the Met Council’s public affairs director. "All of those numbers continue to apply."
The discrepancy may seem small at first: the Met Council has suggested in its regional framework that Lake Elmo plan for its 16,000 new residents using a persons-per-dwelling-unit number of 2.53. The Lake Elmo City Council opted for a slightly higher figure of 2.91 PPDU. But when those numbers are divided into the total of 24,000, the difference in the actual number of housing units is about 1,200.

More is less
While 2.53 PPDU would put about 9,500 total units in Lake Elmo by 2030, 2.91 PPDU leaves that number at only about 8,200. The city’s Planning Commission knew going into its meetings about the comprehensive plan about three months ago what figure the Met Council was suggesting in its regional framework. But, after consulting City Planner Chuck Dillerud who was in communication with Met Council planning staff, the commission decided it might be able to justify a slightly higher number.
"It appears unlikely that a decline in PPDU will occur in Lake Elmo to the extent forecast by the (regional) framework," the planning commissioners stated in a draft of the city’s land use plan submitted to the City Council in April. "A 2030 PPDU ratio of 2.75 appears to be more likely."
If the city were to plan using a 2.75 PPDU figure, the total housing units in 2030 would reach about 8,700. But when the proposal was reviewed by the City Council, Steve DeLapp, the council member who has been the most vocal in resisting the Met Council’s mandate (given them by a Minnesota Supreme Court decision last August), questioned the 2.75, wondering why the number could not be increased closer to three persons per dwelling unit.
DeLapp introduced a resolution that set the number at 2.91. Although Dillerud advised the council that he did not believe he could justify the higher PPDU number to the Met Council, the remaining members ultimately supported it unanimously.
"We’re entitled to choose the type of housing and office buildings we want, as per the agreement, and that includes the number of people per unit," said DeLapp, who believed that using 2.53 would actually inflate the 2030 population closer to 30,000. "The Met Council has no clue as to how to determine occupants per house (in Lake Elmo)."

Fuzzy math
However, according to Dornfeld, Met Council demographers carefully consider the age groups, birth rates, death rates and migration rates for a given community to help determine its projected persons-per-dwelling-unit figure.
"The PPDU has been coming down pretty steadily since 1970 and that’s likely to continue because of the number of ‘baby boomers’ moving into their senior years," Dornfeld said. "The number for Lake Elmo is not unlike those that we’ve calculated for surrounding communities and Washington County in general. ... It’s not just plucked out of thin air."
Still, according to Dillerud, the current PPDU number the Met Council believes Lake Elmo is at — 2.79 — is significantly different than the figure Dillerud himself has determined through his own calculations: 2.98 PPDU. (If the Met Council number is to be believed, 2.91 would be an increase while, if Dillerud is correct, the City Council’s proposal would be a small decrease over the next 25 years.)
For Mayor Dean Johnston, who argued for the 2.75 compromise during City Council meetings (though he ultimately supported 2.91), the disagreement in calculations is not the main issue of concern — it’s time. The deadline for a completed and approved comprehensive plan is June 15.
"We have submitted our first draft of our comp plan to the Met Council for staff comment. We haven’t received that yet," Johnston said. "If they respond with anything other than 2.91, we’ve got some changes that we’ve got to make."
Johnston noted that, in addition to any potential revisions, nearly $60,000 worth of engineering work still has to be completed on the plan once the basic structure has been OK’d by Met Council staff. DeLapp, on the other hand, is not so sure that any changes will have to be made if 2.91 is rejected.
"I’ll go to court again," DeLapp warned. "But if four members of the council are willing to back down on the agreement we made, then there’s nothing I can do about it but raise a stink in public. Which I’ve done and I’ll do again because I’m representing 8,000 people, not outside land speculators."
While it is not known if Met Council members, including Chair Peter Bell, have even reviewed Lake Elmo’s submission yet, Dornfeld maintains that the city still has more to do before June 15. He noted that the comp plan has not yet been shared with surrounding communities, a task that was to have been completed over a month ago.
"So there are some steps here that still need to be completed," Dornfeld said. "And the clock is ticking."

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