The Lake Elmo City Council voted unanimously Dec. 20 to remove the residential development moratorium that has been in place for the last 18 months in the city’s sewer development phases.
In July 2015, the city council adopted and interim ordinance declaring a 12-month moratorium on residential growth within the Stage 1 development area and all development in stages two and three. In July 2016, the moratorium was extended to accommodate a review of the city’s shoreland ordinance by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. State statute would have allowed the city to extend the moratorium 120 days after the receipt of the shoreland ordinance review. In October 2016, the council voted to place a moratorium on development in the shoreland zoning areas of the city in addition to the previous moratorium.
“The review came in yesterday, so we are now under the 120 days,” said city attorney Sarah Sonsalla.
Councilmember Jill Lundgren said she had asked for the moratorium to be placed on the agenda for the Dec. 20 meeting for the council to vote to end it.
“I don’t think we need to carry this over to the new council, and that is the reason I put it on to remove it,” Lundgren said.
“Would you say we accomplished what we set out to do,” Councilmember Justin Bloyer asked.
“Yes,” Lundgren said.
“Can you cite some of those things?” Bloyer asked.
“Probably not right now,” Lundgren said.
Councilmember Julie Fliflet said she thought the moratorium was a good thing to do and was sad to see it end.
“I think that the moratorium is one of the things I am most proud of doing on this council after getting elected,” Fliflet said. “I think that it successfully stopped development at an out-of-control pace and I am extremely proud of that and I think it is what the majority of residents wanted.”
Fliflet explained that it takes a four-fifths vote to change the comprehensive plan — a supermajority that she felt would not take place because the current council has often voted in a three-two split.
“It’s self explanatory why nothing was done,” Fliflet said. “It was brought forward now with a hope that we can make some adjustments.”
“It’s sad for me that it is no longer in our control, that moratoriums have ending dates that we can’t extend after a certain point,” Fliflet said. “I think our city really needed it at the time because our growth rate was out of control.”
Mayor Mike Pearson took offense to the statement that growth before the moratorium was “out of control.”
“It was so out of control that we were able to lower our tax rate; it was so out of control that we lowered water rates; it was so our of control that we have a robust budget surplus,” said Pearson. “To paint this picture is hyperbole — it’s tiring.”
During its Dec. 20 meeting, the council directed the planning commission to begin work on revising the city’s comprehensive plan. The current comprehensive plan reflects now-outdated Metropolitan Council-mandated growth targets. The updated targets from the Met Council significantly lower the number of homes required to be placed in the sewer service areas of the city.
“I’m surprised as anyone that this comes up literally in the ninth hour,” said resident Dale Dorschner during public comment.
Dorschner asked what has changed since the city received the DNR review of the shoreland ordinance that would cause the city to end the moratorium now, instead of using the 120 days to study the review. None of the council members said they have reviewed the DNR report yet.
“It’s sad for me to see the moratorium coming to an end, and I am really proud we had this in effect for 18 months,” Fliflet said. “I get that there are rules and regulations that you can’t have them forever, but I hope that we can have agreement coming forward.”
The council voted 5-0 to end the moratorium.
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