The Lake Elmo City Council is kicking the Stillwater school district out of the bus garage it owns in Lake Elmo, revoking the district’s conditional-use permit for failing after two years to connect the garage to the city’s water and sewer system.
The long-threatened revocation came Tuesday despite a last-minute plea for leniency from the school district’s attorney, who said the paperwork needed for easements to allow the utilities was finally coming together.
Council Member Justin Bloyer said he had heard similar talk in months past, only to see the district’s plans fall apart over and over.
“Fool me 15 times, shame on me,” he said, before casting his vote to revoke the district’s permit.
The school district bought the bus garage in 2018 and has used it since last fall for the storage and maintenance of about 110 buses. Failing to connect the site to the city’s water and sewer system was a violation of the district’s conditional-use permit.
The district has until May 29 to close down the bus garage. It hires its buses from a third party, Minnesota Central, and must provide a parking site for the company as part of its contract that expires July 31.
The district must sign a new contract for bus service starting Aug. 1, and has asked companies to offer bids both with and without parking provided by the school district.
Sarah Stivland, who chairs the Stillwater school board, said before the vote that board members had begun exploring various contingency plans, including parking the buses at district schools.
Stivland voted against the deal after asking questions about some of the contingencies involved, including the condition that seller EN Properties would pay for the extension of Lake Elmo sewer and water to the parcel. EN Properties owner Terry Emerson has not publicly explained why that never happened.
Saying that even some school board members don’t understand how the deal ended up falling short, Stivland in March directed the school board to hire an attorney, Pamela Harris, and the firm BerganKDV to investigate. The board also voted 4-3 to put an unnamed school employee who was connected to the bus garage negotiations on paid leave.
The deal’s failings have caused division in Lake Elmo. Even though the City Council made it clear in January that it was considerating revocation of the school district’s permit, the Lake Elmo Planning Commission voted 6-1 last month to allow the district to amend the permit in such a way that it could have stayed on the property without utility hookups.
The commission rejected the arguments of Lake Elmo Planning Director Ken Roberts, who in a 205-page document laid out the case against the Stillwater school district.
The Planning Commission’s vote came up at Tuesday’s City Council meeting, with Lake Elmo Mayor Mike Pearson laying into the commission for its decision. “They didn’t represent Lake Elmo,” he said.
Pearson defended the City Council’s decision to revoke the conditional-use permit, saying the city wasn’t to blame for what’s transpired.
“Are we upset? Yeah, I’m bugged. I’m irritated ... I’m bugged at the narrative that the district and their allies have created. We’ve been nothing but good partners,” he said.
After another council member expressed concern that the revocation might draw a lawsuit from the Stillwater school district, Pearson said he’s considered that, too.
“I sure as heck hope it doesn’t come down to the district suing the good people of Lake Elmo,” he said.