Open Letter on Growth
Lake Elmo City Council
For generations, the fear of growth has plagued the City of Lake Elmo. It is an emotional issue which some candidates use to exploit fears for their own power and control (and to get votes); this election is no different. My opponents are running on the same tired rhetoric we heard two years ago – slow growth v. fast growth. As a longtime resident of Lake Elmo, the last thing I want to see is a concrete jungle versus what we have today. What I do want to see is a City Council that treats its residents as adults, a team so to speak, that can handle the truth about what the growth phase of our city means. This is accomplished through transparency at all levels of government.
We must remember the Met Council took Lake Elmo to the Minnesota Supreme Court over this issue; after more than $500,000 in litigation (1990’s dollars), we lost the battle. We were mandated to accept sewer infrastructure and to modify our Comprehensive Plan accordingly. The Comprehensive Plan document the Council acted upon in 2013 as part of that mandate, was the very document that Brett Emmons (formerly on the City Council), Julie Fliflet, and Ben Roth (both serving on the Planning Commission) helped create, or at worst, were in positions of power to influence or change in the mid and late 2000’s. In 2013, after only six weeks in office, with a unanimous council and planning commission vote, I voted to act upon the document my three opponents worked on for years. This is in accordance with the system of checks and balances in place, and is what a responsible Council does.
Additionally, a previous council (2005) signed a document entitled the “Memorandum of Understanding” (MOU) with the Met Council. This document laid out a fee schedule of fines if certain thresholds were not met. The first fine was to be due December 31, 2016. This would have been a charge of roughly $8 million dollars. If that was not enough to motivate the city into compliance, then another “more punitive” fine was to be levied at the end of 2021. With that in mind, the city decided to accept the MOU and the following growth plan was instituted (chart below). This plan was in place with the threat of fines until the spring of 2014, when Mayor Pearson and I successfully negotiated its removal.
MET COUNCIL PROJECTION MANDATES:
According to the Met Council Mandate, Lake Elmo was to have 1,930 sewered homes by the end of 2015. As of October 1, 2016 the so-called “out of control growth” is only at 214 homes. Mayor Pearson and I successfully negotiated the elimination of that punitive MOU with only roughly 75 actual homes in the ground; and equally important, we worked to reduce the projected growth numbers by 94% of what was expected for 2015. This is a testament to what a cohesive staff and a functioning council, with good working relationships with outside government entities, is capable of accomplishing.
My opponents have adopted what some people like to call the Goldilocks Policy. Not too much growth, not too little growth, but just right. Here is the problem: for the last two years, no one has been able to explain what is “right”. One of my opponents produced this image:
Either my opponent is intending to deceive voters, or he simply has not read the Met Council Documents nor understands the city’s projections. He indicates his growth number and the Met Council target number for 2020 is 3,800 residences. According to the above Met Council document provided, the target Met Council number was 6,324. So calling for only 3,800 residences in 2020, misses the Met Council’s Target for Projected Growth by almost 3,000 homes. In fact, the rainbow he likes to use to illustrate his point, would be more accurately labeled “Pearson/Bloyer Growth: 40% Growth Reduction”.
This growth rainbow used by my opponent in his collateral and website, only shows the current Fliflet, Roth, and Emmons ticket is being disingenuous with the citizens. They have taken the emotional response to actually seeing the homes in the ground and made the town to feel the growth is “out of control.” All the while, knowing the city will hit roughly 3,800 homes in 2020. The number of 1,800/2,000 new homes often quoted by my opponents, is being misrepresented to scare voters; as it would be more truthful to state that is simply the number of proposed homes approved by the council since 2013. As you can see, we can say all what we want about proposed homes, the fact is they are not being built. Anyone who lives in Sanctuary, Discovery Crossing, or Tapestry knows full well that 15 years later after their approval, there are still plenty of lots available for sale and other homes are just beginning to be built. We simply use the 2,000 number of proposed homes to try to project numbers for a pro forma for the city’s future financial performance.
The current council majority quickly realized when a Comprehensive Plan is in place, the majority has limited ability to stop someone who wishes to develop their land according to the zoning codes. The moratorium was put in place for political reasons; this is exemplified by the fact that there has not been one growth issue discussed by the Planning Commission and Council in 18 months regarding the moratorium (despite my and Mayor Pearson’s repeated appeals to do so).
The city is limited to modifications which fit the Met Council forecast. We are only able to change high density housing numbers, which the mayor and I have pushed for 3 times over the last 18 months, but nothing else. An attempt to change the low density numbers would again be disingenuous, and would not stand up to a Met Council review, as well as result in court costs up to $200,000 per parcel. These concerns are just the tip of the iceberg of issues that led the League of MN Cities to cancel our Land Use Insurance.
The irresponsibility of these policies carry over into tax policy as well. The Fliflet/Roth/Emmons tax policy makes us look like Washington DC; robbing Peter to pay Paul. The current council has taken a “surplus” and decided to return the funds to their political allies. The surplus is not a surplus so to speak, and was not derived by over-taxing.
In 2013, the Mayor and I devised strict developer prepayment and escrow policies which have left the city flush. The money collected and considered “surpluses” are in fact “fees” paid by developers (new residents). The fees are needed to bring Lake Elmo’s aging and failing Public Service infrastructure up to proper standards. The city has two fire stations which are antiquated and must be retired from service. We have an aging, unreliable fleet, with rising maintenance costs, and only ONE fire truck has been purchased in the last 10 years. Our CIP had called for another 26-year-old fire truck (which failed during a fire last year) to be purchased in 2016, but was removed by the majority to allow for the “surplus” to appear. Prior to 2015, these issues would have been vetted in public at a council meeting, not in some unrecorded meeting at 8am when everyone is at work. Our plow fleet dates back to 1986 and maintenance costs exceed the point of repair. At some point, which is now, aging infrastructure needs to be replaced.
This election comes down to integrity. Your city is like an onion with many layers. When you peel back one layer it is very easy to apply false labels like “fast growth and slow growth” and to produce images of “growth rainbows,” which at first glance look great, but when you dig a little deeper, reveals a different truth. Once you peel back the onion, you see how multi-faceted the operation of the city becomes. If you believe a lifelong resident, who lived here when Lake Elmo still had dirt roads, is now all about unfettered growth for the sake of growth, then I am not your candidate. I am, however, the candidate who looks at what Lake Elmo would have been, if decisions 30 years ago by earlier councils would have worked with the big picture and greater community good in mind. We can’t re-ignite the costly and futile fight with the Met Council; nor can we continue to ignore the good advice and guidance from the League of MN Cities. Our responsibilities are to advocate for our residents with polluted water, and those who cannot sell their homes because they have non-compliant septic systems. I want my children to have the opportunity to live in Lake Elmo. We need leaders who have the integrity to do what is needed to navigate Lake Elmo through the growing pains, with honesty and transparency.
Thank you for your consideration,
(651) 334-9721 – firstname.lastname@example.org – www.justinbloyer.com
Paid for by Justin Bloyer for Lake Elmo City Council; 8881 Jane Rd N, Lake Elmo, MN 55042