Lake Elmo to meet new deadline today

At the Lake Elmo City Council’s emergency meeting Jan. 27, City Planner Chuck Dillerud was optimistic that he would be able to put together the materials - specifically a conceptual land use map for the Old Village area - required by Metropolitan Council Chair Peter Bell by today, Feb. 1.
The Friday session was a continuation of a special meeting held on Jan. 24 to discuss a course of action after Mayor Dean Johnston had received a letter from Bell stating in no uncertain terms that he was “personally frustrated with the slow pace” of the city’s work to submit what the Met Council staff deemed a complete comprehensive plan through 2030.
In the letter, Bell warned the city that if the “completeness inventory” of items put together by Met Council staff had not been satisfied and turned in by Feb. 1, he would pursue legal action to compel the city to meet the requirements of an August 2004 State Supreme Court decision granting the Met Council authority in regards to the comp plan.
Johnston said after the emergency meeting that a majority of the council was not willing to risk the Memorandum of Understanding ratified one year ago that capped the city’s 2030 population at 24,000 and 6,600 new sewer units while guaranteeing the city the freedom to plan how it would accept its new density.
“Our direction (to city staff) was to find out what the Met Council wanted and give it to them,” Johnston said. “I called Peter Bell and said we’ve decided to do everything to meet your requirements and the only obstacle is if there is a surprise from the Met Council now.
“I got indirect assurances that they would make responding (after receiving the new materials by Feb. 1) a priority.”
While Johnston and other council members are trying to preserve the fragile working relationship established a little over a year ago with the Met Council (after years of conflict and legal battles), indications from the governor-appointed planning group are that missed deadlines and incomplete submissions have been the damaging factors to the two entities’ cooperation.
“We’re not changing the rules of the game; we’re not asking for something we didn’t ask for before,” Met Council Public Affairs Director Steve Dornfeld said last week. “Every other community seems to be able to submit a plan and fill in all the blanks and, for some reason or another, Lake Elmo seems to be having trouble doing that.”
Lake Elmo was unable to meet the court mandated June 15, 2005 deadline for submission of its comp plan amendments and, after the Met Council granted a conditional extension for Sept. 30, the city’s Sept. 6 submission was deemed incomplete, and the city was told as much in a Sept. 26 Met Council letter that cited all missing elements.
Another deadline was set for Dec. 30, according to Dornfeld, which the city missed as well and, finally, Dillerud submitted what he and the city believed were the missing elements on Jan. 6, only to have the latest communication from Bell and the Met Council on Jan. 20 that the plan was still not complete.
From the city’s end, frustration has grown with the belief that, aside from minor technical issues, the drafts that were submitted in September and again in January were complete. In fact, Johnston, Dillerud, Council Member Anne Smith and City Administrator Martin Rafferty met with Bell and other Met Council reps on Dec. 18 last year to try and clarify what was still needed.
“Supposedly their review is a two-step process. First, they make sure everything’s there, then they do a review on content,” Dillerud said last week of the Met Council’s comp plan review procedures. “The review on content is supposed to focus on the compatibility of your plan with their regional plans.
“My issue from the Sept. 26 letter is that the stuff in it had to do with content. I’ve been losing that conversation ever since.”

Old Village factor
Nearly all of the specifics listed by the Met Council staff (actual Met Council officials, including Bell, have yet to see a draft) as missing from Lake Elmo’s comp plan have something to do with the downtown Old Village area of the city around Highway 5 and Lake Elmo Avenue. According to the “completeness inventory” attached to Bell’s Jan. 20 letter, the plan was lacking adequate information about aviation planning in respect to Lake Elmo Airport (just east of the Old Village), housing types planned for in the Village area and a land use map indicating alternative densities and acreage measurements.
“The City still needs to include the Village Plan as a more detailed subarea comprehensive plan element ... with enough specifics to determine its conformance with regional systems and consistency with Metropolitan Council policies,” the Met Council staff wrote in the Bell enclosure.
But since September, Lake Elmo officials have tried explaining to Met Council reps that the city’s comp plan did not contain more details about the Old Village because city consultants and property owners were still working on developing far-reaching plans for that area and, according to Johnston, including an unfinished product could damage future negotiations.
So, on Jan. 3, the council approved what Dillerud would submit on Jan. 6, including a more detailed written description of the Old Village plans but no map, which the city did not think would be necessary.
In fact, the mayor believed that the Dec. 18 meeting with Bell produced an understanding that the city could take its time deciding exactly how to distribute the 600 units it plans on adding to the Village area, one of the two places in the city that will accept regional sewer in the next 20 years (the other is the corridor south of 10th Street and north of Interstate 94).
“We had a meeting with the Met Council and talked with them about the Old Village and our understanding was that it would be satisfactory to submit a verbal description and follow up later with a map,” Johnston said. “Apparently that was a mutual misunderstanding.”
Nevertheless, Bob Engstrom, whose company and consultants the city hired last year to help flesh out an Old Village plan, presented some preliminary ideas to the council on Jan. 27 with a promise that more details would follow in two to three weeks. Between what Engstrom had produced so far and the adjustments Dillerud would make to be sure the city met all the Met Council’s requirements, the city voted unanimously to include a land use map for the downtown in its comp plan as the Met Council had requested.
While the map should include the availability for life-cycle housing, the potential for amenities like a new City Hall and a large family recreation center, and a “green belt” that includes a tree buffer around the area and natural connections to surrounding neighborhoods, the council wanted the preliminary plan to remain conceptual overall. Dillerud also stressed that the handful of allied Old Village property owners who are trying to develop their own vision and plan for Lake Elmo’s downtown would not now be shut out from the planning process.
“We’ve got a lot of discussions and communications to go forward with the allied owners,” Dillerud said. “They’re not out of the picture as a result of this. We’ve got to do something at this point and the best we can figure is to use what our consultant has put together so far.”
Johnston was also hopeful that today would mark the end of the “completeness issue” and start the two-month review process on content. Meanwhile, both the city and the Met Council are named defendants in a recent lawsuit brought by property owners in the area south of 10th Street who hope to force the city to accept regional sewer sooner than it is currently planning for. But Dornfeld shared the mayor’s optimism that this chapter in the groups’ history would be coming to a close.
“We deal with 189 communities in the metro area on comp plan and comp plan amendments,” Dornfeld said. “I bet that we’ve spent more time on this 1998 comp plan in Lake Elmo than any 10 communities we deal with. I don’t think we’re being any more arbitrary or aggressive than we are with any other communities.”

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