Lake Elmo takes step toward bringing sewer to planned golf course homes

Lake-Elmo-signThe Lake Elmo City Council unanimously approved the first step toward changing the city’s comprehensives guide plan that would allow sewer service to extend to the residential development at Royal Golf Club on the former Tartan Park property. The move would extend sewer service north of 10th Street — an action that many in the community oppose.

When the city became aware that 3M intended to sell its Tartan park property, the city planning department recognized that the property would need to change its current zoning — park or public land — should the new owner intend to change the use of the land to include residential development. Due to the property’s proximity to the city’s lakes and wetlands, sewer would be necessary to prevent water contamination. However, the approval of sewer service to a development includes regulations from the Metropolitan Council — a longtime point of contention at the city council table.

The Royal Golf Course residential development proposal consists of 292 residential units on about 223 acres — a proposed net density of 1.58 dwelling units per acre. Because the change in the comprehensive plan calls for sewer expansion beyond the area where the Met Council has mandated sewer growth, this addition of land and units will drive the city-wide average Metropolitan Urban Services Areas (MUSA) density of 3.07 dwelling units per acre. The Metropolitan Council requires the city maintain an average MUSA density of three dwelling units per acre in order maintain a cost-effective regional wastewater system.

“It [lower density] puts pressure on other developments in the city to have higher densities,” said planning director Stephen Wensman.

Due to the uniqueness of the property, Wensman said the current city zoning designations did not adequately address the needs of the city to regulate residential development around a golf course. The city council previously directed staff to create a new land use category called “Golf Course Community,” a tailored zoning district to accommodate the proposed redevelopment of the Tartan Park Golf Course. In creating such a district, the property is limited in the use of the property as a golf course and has greater control on the number of units allowed on the property. Should the currently proposed Royal Golf Course community fail, the next developer would be required to follow the rules outlined in the new zoning code.

The council weighed the challenges of adding more sewer service area, but embraced the benefits of the project.

“Seventy-six percent open space is a lot and I think that is important to Lake Elmo, it’s important to the community and it’s important to all of us up here,” Councilmember Julie Fliflet said. “I do believe the golf course is an amenity to the residents of Lake Elmo.”

Councilmember Justin Bloyer said he was conflicted about the way the city has approached changes to the comprehensive plan, claiming the city has been reactive instead of proactive.

“I believe that sewer isn’t the issue — it’s the density that goes with it,” Bloyer said. “This is how this city has been for the last 25 years — we are never in the driver’s seat, we are always responding to something else, whether it is the Met Council or something else.”

The city council voted unanimously to approve the Golf Course Community designation to follow residential densities with a range of 1.4 to 1.65 units per acre and extend sewer to the area. However, the vote is only the first step.

“It would need to go to the Met Council for review, it would need to go to neighboring jurisdictions for their review and comment and the Met Council will get back to us on any suggestions they have,” said city attorney Sarah Sonsalla. “At that point the council would ratify the comp plan amendment.”

Developer Rick Packer presented a current plan for the residential development to the city council, and announced that the development intends to make a “seven-figure” donation to the city to replace the baseball and softball fields that will be lost in the development.

Contact Alicia Lebens at [email protected]