The Lake Elmo Planning Commission voted in favor of the Stillwater School District’s request to install a septic system at its troubled bus garage property on Hudson Boulevard North.

It’s a step toward a potential resolution of problems threatening to shutter the garage.

In voting 6-1 on Monday night in support of Stillwater, the commission rejected a recommendation from Lake Elmo planning director Ken Roberts, who last week submitted a 205-page letter with supporting documents that said Stillwater’s plan was nonconforming and inadequate.

Roberts also said the district had misrepresented itself when it said it had approvals from Washington County for use of a temporary septic system. That misrepresentation alone was grounds for denial of Stillwater’s request, he said.

In a meeting conducted by video conferencing with public comment piped in by telephone, the Planning Commission heard arguments from the Stillwater school district’s attorney, Korine Land.

Planning Commission chairman Charles Cadenhead said he felt that Land “did a very good job” walking the commission through the issue.

As far as the school district misrepresenting itself, Cadenhead said it was a misunderstanding, and not something underhanded.

The planning commission’s recommendation now goes to the City Council for consideration.

The missing water and sewer connections are partly why the City Council is already considering revoking a conditional use permit that allows the district to operate a bus terminal on the property. The council in January denied another Stillwater request to extend the deadline for making those connections.

The problems began soon after the school district bought the 11-acre parcel in 2018. The former truck terminal site lacked permanent utility hookups, and the district made its purchase contingent on the former owner paying for water and sewer connections. The utilities were not installed, however, and the Stillwater school board launched an investigation last month to determine what went wrong. The board simultaneously put a district employee connected to the land deal on paid leave.

Cadenhead said he supported Stillwater’s request because Lake Elmo doesn’t require property owners to pay for the kind of extensive work needed to bring water and sewer to the bus terminal.

“No property owner has that responsibility,” he said.