Lake Elmo’s willingness to be a robust partner in the creation of a major new east-metro transitway is up in the air.

A request by East Metro Strong, a public-private partnership promoting growth in the area, for Lake Elmo to contribute up to $30,000 for studies on what would develop around rapid busway station areas turned into a prolonged bout of agonizing at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting.

“I’m seeing what’s going on around the Blue Line and the Green Line” when it comes to high-density development, said council member Anne Smith. “And I’m afraid.”

The city for decades has resisted fast growth in population, prizing a rural feel. Some have argued that concentrating growth around transit stations along the proposed Gateway Corridor could spare other parts of town.

“I’m really struggling with this,” Smith said. “If I say ‘spend $30,000,’ I’m sending a message ‘I’m for the Gateway’ and the possibility of taking housing I don’t want.”

Colleague Julie Fliflet said the study could speak to market interest in a corporate headquarters, which many in town would favor.

The commission planning the line aims to place several stations in Lake Elmo, as opposed to neighboring Woodbury, partly because it’s more of a blank canvas for development.

Mayor Mike Pearson said, “We can’t fool ourselves it would all be commercial development. There’ll probably be [mixed uses] which, whether we think it’s good or not, someone will probably realize is good for the city.”

Formal municipal consent is still years away, council members were assured. But some worried that each new incremental step builds momentum that gets hard to stop. The council ended up tabling the matter until its next meeting.