Lake Elmo, the Twin Cities’ poster child for resistance to sprawl, is opting out of a major transitway that had been counted on to propel development of some of its blank-canvas acreage.
The City Council voted 3-2 Wednesday against a measure to keep pursuing plans for two stations in Lake Elmo.
“I’m here as an elected official for the folks of Lake Elmo who want to keep this rural community pretty rural-looking,” Council Member Jill Lundgren said.
At issue is the proposed Gold Line busway, to run between St. Paul’s downtown Union Station and Washington County. The terminus point was supposed to be in Lake Elmo, but now probably will be in neighboring Woodbury instead.
A sign of the headwinds the project faced: Even Council Member Justin Bloyer, who ended up supporting it out of fear of losing tax base, declared: “This $485 million project concerns me greatly.”
Conversely, people on the other side admitted that they wrestled with the decision.
“It is a good project, I fully support it and what it brings,” said Council Member Julie Fliflet. “I just don’t feel it’s the right fit for our community.”
For decades, farm-laced Lake Elmo has permitted only a trickle of new development despite its location just across Interstate 94 from growth-hungry Woodbury.
Most east metro leaders support the busway. Jan Lucke, Washington County’s transportation planning manager, told council members that the only areas of the city that would feel the effect of the busway would be in a half-mile circle around each of the stations. “I firmly believe we can preserve rural Lake Elmo while constructing bus rapid transit,” she said.
Transit planners, who push for busy activity centers around stations to promote all-day use of the line, assured city officials of flexibility and local influence over what springs up there. But council members were wary.
Matt Kramer, president of the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce, issued a statement saying other cities on the line back the plan and added: “We expect that defining new options for the eastern end of the line will take some time.”