Lake Elmo is weighing an unusual proposal to build a private cemetery, at a time when many cemeteries are struggling as cremations exceed traditional casket burials in popularity.

"A lot of people who choose cremation often don't choose a cemetery as the final resting place for cremated remains," said Ron Gjerde of the Minnesota Association of Cemeteries. "That's the real challenge facing cemeteries today."

Lee Rossow wants to turn property he owns in Lake Elmo into a cemetery "catering to the needs for modern burials," which would include aboveground vaults for cremated remains and traditional in-ground burials.

Rossow recently told the Washington County city's planning commission that Halcyon Cemetery wouldn't present any dangers for soil contamination because caskets would be placed in concrete vaults. He couldn't be reached Friday for comment.

Gjerde said that even if the burial market has evolved in a way that discourages new cemeteries, the Lake Elmo proposal looks promising.

"In Lake Elmo, maybe there is a market there since cemeteries tend to be neighborhood oriented," he said.

Gjerde said no nonchurch, in-ground cemeteries have joined the state association for at least a decade. The last big in-ground cemetery in Minnesota, built for veterans in Little Falls, opened in 1994, he said.

Churches in Woodbury, Shore- view, Golden Valley and Roseville have built or plan to build columbariums, which are aboveground structures for cremated remains.

Others have built in-ground cremorials for cremated remains, or memorial gardens where loved ones can be commemorated.

A few suburbs, such as Chanhassen and Apple Valley, have expanded existing cemeteries, while other cities such as Bloomington have considered doing so.

Some cities have denied associated proposals, such as a request by a cemetery owner in Inver Grove Heights in May to build a crematorium.

In a strange twist to conventional land planning, the Lake Elmo cemetery would be considered a subdivision because Rossow would sell plots.

"He's transferring ownership of the land to individual people via the grave sites," said Todd Williams, who chairs the planning commission. "It's a very unusual subdivision compared to housing ­developments."

Lake Elmo's zoning ordinances allow cemeteries in neighborhoods, and Rossow wasn't seeking any variances, Williams said.

"It's his privilege to do it," Williams said. "Part of the applicant's presentation was comments by a cemetery designer. He described the proposed layout and it seemed to be pretty well thought out."

Bill Sanders, the landscape designer from Loucks Associates of St. Paul, said the cemetery will be private, nondenominational and wouldn't provide any funeral services.

The commission's initial hearing of Rossow's plan — the first of three stages — means that he now must provide a preliminary plat before further discussion takes place. No City Council action has been taken.

Gjerde said that Rossow attended an annual meeting of the state cemeteries association and appeared to have done his research.

"He's very serious as far as I can see about doing it," Gjerde said.

Anyone who undertakes a cemetery development "should build it from the mind-set that it's perpetual," he said, and must ensure its permanent care and upkeep.

"He'll need a succession plan," Gjerde said of Rossow.

Kevin Giles • 651-925-5037