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City of Elmo v. Councill

December 16, 2003

THE CITY OF LAKE ELMO, RELATOR,
v.
METROPOLITAN COUNCIL, RESPONDENT.



Metropolitan Council File No. 2003-10

Considered and decided by Stoneburner, Presiding Judge; Shumaker, Judge; and Minge, Judge.

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

1. The proper standard of review for an appeal from a final decision of the Metropolitan Council under Minn. Stat. §á473.866 (2002) is that the court shall give deference to the administrative agency, but shall not give preference to either the administrative law judge's record and report or to the findings, conclusions, and final decision of the council.

2. On review of a final decision of the Metropolitan Council under Minn. Stat. §á473.866, this court shall not examine evidence that the administrative law judge excluded from the record, but shall base its decision upon a preponderance of the evidence as contained in the record on appeal.

3. When the Metropolitan Council determines that a city's plan will have a substantial impact on or contains a substantial departure from the council's plan, the council does not exceed its statutory authority by requiring the city to conform to the council's plan, even when conformity necessarily requires an action on the part of a city otherwise beyond the authority of the council to require.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gordon W. Shumaker, Judge

Affirmed

Appellant City of Lake Elmo appeals from respondent Metropolitan Council's adoption of the resolution requiring Lake Elmo to modify its proposed 1998 Comprehensive Plan Amendment. An administrative law judge reviewed this matter and recommended that the Metropolitan Council (the council) adopt the resolution because Lake Elmo's plan has a substantial impact on or contains a substantial departure from metropolitan system plans. Thus, the council was authorized to require modifications of Lake Elmo's plan. Because there is a preponderance of evidence in the record to support a conclusion that Lake Elmo's plan will have a substantial impact and does substantially depart from the council's plan, and the agency's determinations are consistent with this finding, we affirm.

FACTS

Appellant City of Lake Elmo is located about ten miles east of St. Paul in Washington County. Lake Elmo is bounded to the south by I-94, to the north by Highway 36, to the west by the city of Oakdale and I-694. Lake Elmo is primarily rural with a population of about 7,000 people, and it has sought to retain a rural character. As of 2000, Lake Elmo had 2,347 households and 1,635 jobs.

Sewer System

Most of Lake Elmo is served by individual sewage treatment systems that the city proposes to maintain and expand as necessary. However, the southwest corner of Lake Elmo, adjacent to I-94, has a 120-acre area that is served by a metropolitan sewer system, called the WONE (Woodbury, Oakdale, Northdale, East Oakdale) interceptor, which does not have much additional capacity and could not support large-scale urbanization in Lake Elmo. Because the WONE Interceptor will be fully utilized in the future, the council began planning for additional wastewater service to Lake Elmo.

The council, Lake Elmo, and representatives of other nearby cities met to consider alternatives for handling sewer-system demands. The council reviewed Lake Elmo's plan to update its sewer systems in light of the council's plan and determined that Lake Elmo's plan to maintain and expand individual sewage treatment systems conflicts with the council's plan. The council concluded that Lake Elmo's plan had a substantial impact on and contained a substantial departure from the council's system plans and thus required modification. Lake Elmo argues that the council's requirement that the city modify its sewage system plan exceeds the council's statutory authority.

Population Density

Three principal highways, I-94, I-694, and Highway 36 run through or border Lake Elmo. I-94 will expand to improve traffic flow within the next 25 years. There is existing expansion capacity on I-94 through Lake Elmo. The council recommends a housing density of approximately seven units per acre as the standard for supporting cost-effective transit service.

The council advised Lake Elmo of the council's plan and indicated what the city needed to plan for when updating its own plan. The council's plan advised Lake Elmo to expand its existing urban area by 1,500 "sewered households" and 1,000 "sewered employees" by 2020. The council identified I-94 as a freeway transit corridor and stated that Lake Elmo's city plan should identify opportunities for development within one-quarter mile of this corridor. The council contends that if development does not occur in Lake Elmo to accommodate the growth predicted by the council, it is possible that the growth will occur in other surrounding cities where it will be more expensive to provide urban services. Lake Elmo argues that the council's adoption of a resolution that requires Lake Elmo to modify its plan to accommodate growth in population density exceeds the council's statutory authority.

After review by an administrative law judge (ALJ), the council adopted a resolution to require Lake Elmo to modify its Comprehensive Plan Amendment in accordance with the ALJ's recommendation, and Lake Elmo filed a petition for writ of certiorari. This appeal followed.

ISSUES

1. What is the proper standard of review when an aggrieved party appeals from a final decision of the Metropolitan Council under Minn. Stat. § 473.866 (2002)?

2. Did the Metropolitan Council exceed its statutory authority when it required the City of Lake Elmo to conform to the council's plan when it concluded that the City of Lake Elmo's plan was in conflict with the council's plan and would have a substantial impact on or ...


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