Oakdale hopes to put ball fields in Lake Elmo

On Nov. 22, an item listed in Oakdale’s consensus agenda as simply, “Approve transaction with 3M”, passed unanimously without fanfare. However, when some Lake Elmo representatives caught wind of the action two days later in a daily newspaper, they took understandable interest. After all, the “transaction” that was approved was a donation of 20 acres of 3M land located in Lake Elmo.
The proposal was two years in the making, according to Oakdale City Administrator Craig Waldron, who met with Lake Elmo Administrator Martin Rafferty on Dec. 6 prior to a Lake Elmo City Council meeting. It was born out of a blue ribbon parks study that identified a need for more athletic facilities, particularly for outdoor activities, in the city.
“(The study) said we should take some of the pressure off of local parks by building an outdoor complex,” Waldron said. “There are not a lot of big tracts left in Oakdale for that.”
Which is why the city approached 3M, which owns substantial undeveloped property on the east side of the city. The idea was that a donation from 3M would count toward the city’s park dedication requirement. According to Waldron, giving the city a 20-acre parcel south of Highway 5 allows 3M to develop 200 acres of its property some time in the future.
But the final proposal settled on last month was for acreage east of the Imation campus and Ideal Avenue, necessitating a zoning change by Lake Elmo and invoking the frustration of Council Member Steve DeLapp.
“We’re going to include an athletic complex as part of our Old Village plan and I’m tired of having anything built in our city that will undermine that,” DeLapp said after the meeting, where he had asserted that such a project was “not right” and not in the city’s park plan.
“We don’t want our kids having organized sports (at the Oakdale parks) and abandon the ones downtown.”

Teamwork
Although DeLapp and Council Member Liz Johnson expressed surprise at finding the issue presented in a newspaper before it had been formally brought to their attention (Mayor Dean Johnston was quoted in the article), Rafferty informed the council that his meeting with Waldron and staff had been a “positive” step toward both cities working in “full partnership” on the project.
A new athletic complex was not a total surprise to Lake Elmo officials, as Oakdale had sent a letter in March proposing a “joint venture” for ball fields in the area.
“This was an informational, exploratory meeting based on information we’d received from the press,” Rafferty said of his hour-and-15-minute meeting on Dec. 6. “There was a discussion about six months ago that this could potentially come about.
“Lake Elmo is now looking to see what Oakdale’s intent is and how to proceed. Oakdale is examining how they want to move forward as well.”
One way Oakdale has already done that is to utilize 3M’s help in drafting a rough concept plan of what the park complex might look like. The preliminary plan includes softball fields, soccer fields and a trail surrounding the site.
Waldron said the parks study found that a large outdoor complex was more appropriate than a community center-type facility, as the city already had several community center features “scattered around” (like the partially public swimming pool at Skyview Middle School or ice rink at Tartan Ice Arena). But if the complex had to be on Lake Elmo property, he didn’t feel that annexation would have to be pursued.
“There’s a lot of examples of where one city has land in another city,” Waldron said. “We’ll have to go through a planning procedure in Lake Elmo just like anywhere else.”

Field of schemes
Both cities hope that procedure will be as smooth as possible, though the project is very much still in preliminary stages. Rafferty told the City Council on Dec. 6 that the venture had the potential to “benefit both cities” and spoke with Waldron about the potential relationship such a complex would have with Lake Elmo’s park system.
Oakdale Mayor Carmen Sarrack noted that, while the proposed complex would definitely be owned and operated by Oakdale, he didn’t anticipate any major problems working with his neighbors to the east.
“It should be a win/win situation because we’re going to build an athletic complex (for both cities),” Sarrack said. “We’ve got to get the money first and figure out the financing, though.”
3M spokesman Bill Nelson said the company had “no current plans on the table” for developing its Oakdale land, and that the donation had no connection to the trace amounts of 3M chemicals discovered earlier this year in the city’s municipal water supply (the company has financed a large carbon filtration system to correct the contamination problem).
“Part of 3M’s corporate value is to be a good neighbor and be responsive to the needs of the communities where it operates,” Nelson said.
As for DeLapp, he acknowledged that the transaction was simply an exchange between property owners and that he could support a future park, particularly if it focused less on athletics and more on “real park” environment.
“It’s going to be a park, I just want to make sure it’s got a minimal impact to Lake Elmo and isn’t used in a manner that will reduce the excitement and usage in our downtown,” DeLapp said.
Rafferty said he would be waiting to hear again from Waldron who would be meeting with Oakdale leaders in the coming weeks.

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