Lake Elmo’s growth rate increases to make it the fastest growing city in the state
LAKE ELMO — New homes continue to rise in Lake Elmo, the once sleepy outpost surrounded by fields of grass that census figures now consider the fastest growing town in the state.
The influx of newcomers pushed the city’s population up 13.6% from July 2020 to July 2021, according to the latest US Census estimates released last week – a growth so strong that, if it continues, it will would double the population in less than six years.
“It’s definitely growing very quickly,” said Jordan Graen, a newcomer who loves the area so much he and his wife have moved there twice, buying a house in Lake Elmo in 2019 before moving again to a bigger house. in Lake Elmo in 2021. The rural atmosphere, lack of strip malls and open spaces drew them in, he said.
Not so long ago, Lake Elmo, now home to 12,899, retained much of its rural character even when the nearby suburbs of Woodbury, Cottage Grove and Oakdale were booming. Lake Elmo grew only 16% between 1990 and 2000, while Woodbury more than doubled in size.
When the Met Council ordered Lake Elmo to take on its fair share of metro growth by connecting to a regional sewer system, the city refused and sued the Met Council in a case that went as far as the state Supreme Court. The city lost, sewers were built, and developers quickly moved in.
The change meant Lake Elmo went from 32 building permits in 2013 to 150 two years later. It has hovered between 250 and 300 every year since.
The Met Council originally wanted Lake Elmo to reach 24,000 by 2030, but the city has hit its target of 22,304 by 2040. Today, city administrator Kristina Handt likes to think the lake Elmo is in “this awkward adolescent state”.
Growing pains have become impossible to ignore and last year City Council approved a 42% municipal tax increase to pay for a new downtown, a new fire station, a public works addition, four new full-time positions and other infrastructure. Even with the higher levy, the city boasts one of the lowest tax rates in Washington County, Handt said.
“The growth is not surprising because families want to be here to raise their children here,” said Jeff Holtz, who moved to Lake Elmo five years ago. He and his wife moved from the Battle Creek neighborhood of St. Paul to a new development across from the small Lake Elmo airport. “We have new residents coming to our Facebook page almost every week,” he said.
Today, with two children at Lake Elmo Elementary School, Holtz has been involved in the community by serving on the city council. It is there that he sees first hand the town’s struggle to get enough clean water for all the townspeople.
Like many other towns in Washington County, Lake Elmo sits in an area contaminated with polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, that have been manufactured for decades by Maplewood-based 3M Co.. “Eternal chemicals” do not break down in the environment and have been used. in non-stick cookware, fire-fighting foam and other consumer goods. The company legally disposed of factory waste in nearby landfills and the chemicals seeped into groundwater.
Lake Elmo sued 3M when the chemicals were found in the city’s wells, and 3M Co. agreed in 2019 to pay $2.7 million and give the city 180 acres of farmland to settle the claims of Lake Elmo. The city used the money to drill wells.
And then there is the problem of supply. The city has three wells that drew some 395 million gallons of fresh water from an underground aquifer last year. A request to the state Department of Natural Resources to draw more water was denied due to a long-running dispute over water levels from White Bear Lake. A 2017 court order placed restrictions on communities, including Lake Elmo, that use water from the same aquifer that feeds the lake. Efforts to bring in the state legislature this year were unsuccessful.
Water shortages forced the city to issue a moratorium in April on new construction in about a quarter of the city. The moratorium can last up to one year.
“We are trying to meet the Met Council’s growth requirements and ensure the public health and safety of our community,” Lake Elmo Mayor Charles Cadenhead said at the time. “But our efforts are being hampered by a court ruling that puts our community’s livelihood at risk.”
It’s now the city’s top priority to find a permanent solution to its water problem, said city council member Lisa McGinn.
For residents like Graen, the city’s rapid growth presents another problem. Even though Lake Elmo Elementary School is practically next door to her subdivision, the district told her that her children would attend an elementary school five miles away in Stillwater.
Stillwater Schools Superintendent Malinda Lansfeldt said Lake Elmo Elementary School is in dire need of renovations and the district will convene a panel next year to consider replacing it and the Oakland expansion. Junior High nearby.
Graen said he wants a new elementary school big enough for his neighborhood by 2024, when his eldest starts kindergarten.
“I still have hope,” he said.