Farther-out Twin Cities suburbs worry about Met Council forecasts

  • Article by: DAVID PETERSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 4, 2014 - 12:48 PM

Big whack to Elko New Market’s population projections won’t deter city from going ahead with a costly new water plant.

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A car sped past downtown Elko New Market on County Road 2. The once-tiny hamlet had a big population jump, but forecasts have been scaled way back.

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The City Council in Elko New Market was nearing the final stages of commissioning an $8 million water treatment plant last fall when the word came down: The Metropolitan Council was proposing to drastically reduce the city’s growth forecast.

A city that had once been projected to explode from roughly 4,000 people to more than 20,000 by the year 2030 was being ratcheted back to just 8,000 by 2040.

In an era when some small exurban towns have faced severe financial distress after investing in oversized infrastructure and then finding the growth didn’t materialize, what was Elko New Market to do? The plant was sized for 10,000 people.

The final call: Stay the course.

“As a city we have some concern about assuming a radical change geographically in where people are going to want to live, based on several decades of a market existing for the type of housing we provide,” said City Administrator Tom Terry.

“Will there be some changes in the future? Undoubtedly. But to the degree that the Met Council projections show, I don’t know if that’s entirely warranted. The reality is, they don’t know for sure and neither do we. We need to take a temperate approach and see over time what the rate of change proves to be. Historically, the Met Council has significantly underestimated the growth in our community.”

Last month the council issued revised projections bumping Elko New Market up to 12,200 by 2040. But that’s still nowhere near the 2004 forecasts, which were made at a time when suburban and exurban growth rates were at their hottest.

Generally speaking, it’s the farther-out communities that are concerned about projections feeling low, while those closer in have been concerned about too much development projected.

In Credit River Township, town board supervisor Brent Lawrence concedes that his community has hardly been a development hotbed lately.

“I don’t think [we have] approved a new platted development in a long time, probably six years,” he said.

Still, he said, the new projections call for only a relative handful of building permits annually over 30 years.

“Over time, that would mean a real slowing down. When you look at us and our proximity to Interstate 35, I think this might be low for us.”

Belle Plaine has a mixed reaction to the new estimates.

The city is pleased to see the revised numbers after concerns of being reclassified by the council as a “rural center” when it was considered a “rural growth center” in the 2030 projections, a decade ago.

Community Development Director Chelsea Alger said the city invested time and money in planning for the growth based on the 2030 predictions and was concerned the council isn’t considering outer communities as “developing.”

The newest projections, although more encouraging, Alger said, are still short 3,000 people compared to the 2030 numbers.

Overall, the projections do represent a change from the last round in 2004, said the Met Council’s Libby Starling, and that reflects a number of changes since then, notably in demographics.

“Development patterns are changing,” she said, “and what’s driving that is the demographics of the region. As we look at primary part of new household growth being senior citizen households, some of them will want to age in place while others will want to move to areas where they don’t have to shovel as much snow.

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