Lake Elmo’s population will rival that of Stillwater by 2040, according to the latest forecast by the Metropolitan Council.
Lake Elmo says that may not be quite true, but it still expects to grow rapidly, while Stillwater will add population more slowly.
The most recently released projections from the Met Council — which is the statutory authority for land use planning, transportation and wastewater management in the Twin Cities — show Lake Elmo having 21,200 residents by 2040, up from 8,061 residents in 2010. That would be only 1,300 less than the projected population of Stillwater, and would put Lake Elmo’s growth rate among the highest projected in the metro.
But Lake Elmo officials say the Met Council estimate is a little too high.
“We think that number is still 2,000 people too high,” City Administrator Dean Zuleger said. “You really are only going to be able to functionally fit about 19,000 people.”
That’s based on a “careful spacial analysis” about where the city can add people by 2040.
“We’ve got a couple of unique features,” Zuleger said. “One is the Lake Elmo Park Reserve, which just makes it hard to run a lot of infrastructure. … We think that, unless there would be a flurry of high-density housing … 19,000 is about what Lake Elmo can do.”
Lake Elmo has alerted the Met Council staff of their findings.
“This is something the Met Council is fully aware of,” Zuleger said. “We’ve worked really hard in the last year to establish a good working relationship with the Met Council that’s based on common sense and practicality.”
Even the projection of 21,200 by 2040 is significantly lower than expectations set by the Met Council after a legal dispute with Lake Elmo about a decade ago.
In 2004, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that the Met Council had authority to require Lake Elmo to join the regional sewer system. In 2005 the city of Lake Elmo entered a contract — known as a memorandum of understanding — with the Met Council. The memo required the city to grow to 24,000 residents by the year 2030, with specific growth targets every five years. According to Guy Peterson, current Met Council director of community development, the issue at stake was ensuring that regional investments, such as the regional sewer system, were used efficiently.
The city and the Met Council recently reached an agreement to set aside the memorandum of understanding because of the improvements the city has made to its sewer system.
“For us now, for the first time in a long time, we’re not contractually obligated,” Zuleger said. “It’s simply a forecast, and we’re sure that between now and 2040 they’ll be adjusting that a couple of times.”
But Zuleger said the city still wants to come close to the forecast, which is why it is working with the Met Council to potentially adjust the numbers.
Lake Elmo to outpace other Stillwater area growth
One thing everyone seems to agree on is that Lake Elmo’s growth will outpace that of Stillwater and Stillwater’s neighbors by a long shot.
While the Met Council predicts Lake Elmo will add a little more than 13,000 people between 2010 and 2040, Stillwater is only projected to add about 4,200 in the same period, for a 2040 population of 22,500.
Stillwater’s development director Bill Turnblad says that’s about what the city expects as well, saying population growth is expected to slow down somewhat.
“The number of households will increase faster than the population will,” he said. “The reason for that is because of the household size, not the slowing down adding houses.”
Turnblad pointed out that the Met Council forecast puts the average household size at 2.37 people, which is a decrease from 2.58 people per household based in the 2010 census. So even though the city can annex more land from Stillwater Township under an existing agreement, each household added will represent a smaller number of residents.
By 2040, Turblad expects the city will have annexed all the land it can from Stillwater Township and will basically run out of space for brand new developments. But even that doesn’t mean growth will stop.
“As communities mature, you have redevelopment occur, and as redevelopment occurs, typically that becomes more dense,” he said. “I don’t see development necessarily slowing down, but changing.”
Turnblad said one aspect of the Met Council’s projections sticks out to him as different from what the city had anticipated when it adopted its 2030 comprehensive plan — the number of jobs expected. The Met Council only predicts there will be 11,700 jobs in Stillwater in 2040, up from 9,628 in 2010. When it made its comprehensive plan, the city had expected that number to be about 13,600 by 2030, Turnblad said.
Except for job growth Turnblad said the rest of the forecast aligns with the city’s comprehensive plan. Stillwater City Administrator Larry Hansen agreed.
“There’s a lot of planning that goes into these things,” Hansen said. “It’s done over a period of years. Important decisions were made 15 years ago, and we stick with the plan.”
Except Lake Elmo, Stillwater’s neighbors expect to see modest population growth, with Bayport projected to add about 900 residents and Oak Park Heights expected to add a little more than 1,300.
Other cities in Washington County, however, will see more rapid growth, including Woodbury, projected to add about 25,200 residents, and Hugo which will more than double its 2010 population of 13,332.
What will Lake Elmo look like in the year 2040?
Despite its rapid anticipated growth, the city of Lake Elmo will likely retain its rural character.
“In terms of number of homes we’ll look different,” Zuleger said. “In terms of trying to … remain that little breath of fresh air in the East Metro, we’re going to do our best to make sure we don’t lose that character.”
And with the removal of a contractual obligation to meet growth targets, Zuleger believes Lake Elmo has the opportunity to achieve that goal through careful planning.
One goal the city would like to accomplish is attracting senior housing to the downtown area.
“One of the tragedies that we’re facing right now in our community is that when our seniors … want to transition from their home to someplace else, they’ve got nowhere to go (in Lake Elmo),” Zuleger said.
A plan for the downtown area (Old Village) was scheduled for discussion at a joint meeting of the Lake Elmo Economic Development Authority, the city council and planning commission March 11.
The Old Village plan was developed with resident input and refined by the Old Village Commission.
One of the major components of that plan is senior housing, according to Councilmember Anne Smith, who was a member of the Old Village Commission. In addition, the plan calls for a community gathering area or “village green.” That might include a city hall, community center, library, ball fields, water features and more.
“The idea is to create something that the people of Lake Elmo want to come down and visit,” Smith said.
It’s also intended to relieve some of the density in the I-94 corridor.
“We wanted to spread some of that population out,” she said. “At the same time, it was creating a sense of place for all the residents of Lake Elmo. … We have a chance of a lifetime to create something spectacular.”
Contact Jonathan Young at [email protected]