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Cottage Grove among cities questioning Met Council population estimates

Some east metro cities are scratching their heads and wondering why population and household growth projections released by the Metropolitan Council are so far off from their local estimates.

Woodbury and Cottage Grove say the Met Council’s 2040 forecast is too low and doesn’t reflect building activity that has picked up in the last few years.

The south Washington County cities are preparing responses to the preliminary forecasts that predict a 900,000 population growth throughout the metro area with Minneapolis, St. Paul and first-ring suburbs seeing a big chunk of the increase.

With the Met Council underestimating housing and job growth in Washington County, cities will begin voicing concerns regarding water and infrastructure resources and land use plans that could potentially change based on those numbers.

Infrastructure plans and water aquifers have already been given the Met Council’s stamp of approval for various local governments to continue developing, Cottage Grove City Administrator Ryan Schroeder said.

“And later they say, ‘Hmm, well now we don’t agree because we’ve changed our projections or we’ve changed our mind because somebody else needs the resources more,’” he said. “Then that would be a problem for us.”

Developing suburbs like Woodbury and Cottage Grove work through the Municipal Urban Service Area (MUSA), a growth boundary set by the Met Council that limits services and infrastructure for development.

Woodbury’s Phase 2, which opened up for development late last year and began seeing building activity this year, is all within the MUSA boundary.

“If they reduce the population projections and household projections, that means that’s going to reduce the amount of land that can be put within the MUSA area,” Woodbury Community Development Director Dwight Picha said.

While the Met Council forecast is still predicting growth in developing suburbs, local city officials say the numbers reflect growth at a much slower pace.

Woodbury’s current Comprehensive Plan projects a population growth of 84,000 by 2030, while the Met Council’s model states a 78,200 number in 2040 – 10 years later, but still 5,800 less.

“Our biggest concern is we’ve made a lot of public and private investment in the city since 2010 based on how we’re going to grow over the next 20 years in the growth management plan,” Picha said. “We’ve made major investments in facilities, infrastructure for our future development, so we don’t think at this time it’s appropriate to significantly change our projections based on whatever their new theories are.”

Woodbury’s Bielenberg Sports Center is undergoing a $22 million renovation, while the city’s Pioneer Drive was just recently completed to provide access to a number of new residential subdivisions in the southern part of town. A major sanitary sewer line was also added to the area two years ago.

Cottage Grove to ‘ramp up’

Bordering Woodbury and also planning for growth at well above the 200 units a year that the Met Council is projecting is Cottage Grove, where Schroeder said those numbers may be based off dismal economic growth experienced over the past decade.

Cottage Grove expects to grow to about 65,000 people by 2040, about 20,000 more than Met Council’s predictions.

“We don’t expect to hit hard 2020 targets, but our 2030 and 2040 targets are much more open to interpretation,” Schroeder said. “We think we’ll start to ramp up here in the next couple of years and we expect things to take off after that.”

Cottage Grove’s plan reflects growth based on the fact that developable land in neighboring cities is diminishing, leaving developers with options in southern Washington County.

“So it’s not a stretch to suggest that as we get larger and as the available land around us starts to shrink that our production will pick up,” Schroeder said. “That growth has to go somewhere.”

The Met Council 2040 forecast was a result of a new model put in place this year, taking the region’s competitive strengths and employment growth into consideration, Met Council demographer Todd Graham said.

The local county and city numbers are determined based a model that looks at the real estate market and future demographics of renters and homeowners, he added, with this preliminary draft focusing more on the demand side of the market.

The forecast gives Minneapolis approximately 46,000 new housing units by 2040 and a 27 percent population increase at 487,700.

Graham said there is a broader market trend that puts preference for accessibility and amenities in areas like Minneapolis and St. Paul, with seniors as well as the millennial generation seeking housing close to work, transit and downtown.

“It is possible to redevelop areas, it is possible to put more intense or denser development in the region’s core,” he said.

But local officials say extreme levels of major, unprecedented redevelopment would have to occur to meet those goals, which would then shift state resources to those areas as opposed to bringing them to already open and available fields.

For example, Bloomington’s population is set to go from 82,000 to 113,000, according to the forecast.

“Bloomington has been 80,000 since 1970 when it was pretty much finished developing,” Picha said. “And now they’re saying that these suburbs like Bloomington, Shoreview, Maplewood are going to see large increases in their populations.”

Local city officials say their comprehensive plans have been approved by the Met Council through the updating process, with Woodbury receiving the last OK three years ago in 2010.

Woodbury’s growth management plan estimates an average of 600 housing units per year through 2030, which is consistent with the number of building permits issued recently, Picha said.

Why population, household numbers and employment projections differ significantly from local comprehensive plans is because local plans lay out what’s available for development and what isn’t, Graham said.

“The comprehensive plans are an envelope of possibilities,” he said. “If you add up all the land that’s been guided in the region and what the cities would allow to be in every part of the region then we’d probably have enough land for the next 150 years.”

But this is a 30-year forecast, he said, a work-in-progress released for the purpose of discussion before the Met Council is set to approve a final draft next spring.

“Probably the next version of local forecasts that we produce will look different,” Graham said.

The forecast has attracted constructive feedback that’s been helpful in determining what cities believe is realistic in terms of land constraints in the developed and undeveloped cores, he added.

Riham Feshir
Riham Feshir is a reporter and photographer for the Woodbury Bulletin. Her coverage includes Woodbury City Hall, Washington County Board of Commissioners and business news.  Follow Riham on Twitter @RihamFeshir for the latest updates.