Twenty years after WCCO-TV rated Lauderdale the best place to live in the Twin Cities metropolitan area, how are things going for “the little city that could”?
That’s what a group of citizens and officials will be asking in 2017 as they begin to craft a comprehensive plan to define Lauderdale’s wants, needs and path forward for the next decade or more.
At this point, there appear to be a couple of Cs on the city’s report card, some solid Bs and an A+ when it comes to “works well with others.”
“We provide a higher level of service at a lower cost than most other communities in the metro,” according to Mayor-elect Mary Gaasch, “and a lot of that has to do with being creative at partnering.”
Lauderdale has a population holding steady at about 2,500. The city contracts with outside entities for its water supply (St. Paul), snow plowing (Ramsey County), police (Village of St. Anthony) and fire protection (Falcon Heights).
Big projects completed
In the 2000-2004 period, the city undertook a major public works program in the form of new sewer and water lines and street and alley paving. More recently, the sewer system was lined to extend its life.
The Metropolitan Council has designated Lauderdale as among the municipalities out of compliance with the council’s initiative to keep stormwater or groundwater out of the sanitary sewer system because of the needless cost incurred in treating “clean” water.
But Heather Butkowski, city administrator, one of five city employees, is hoping that the large- scale improvements the city has made will get Lauderdale off that list.
Do other major infrastructure needs loom?
“We’re in pretty good shape and are putting money aside,” Gaasch said. “There’s nothing major that we know about that will need doing in the next five years.”
The poor condition of Eustis
Street between Larpenteur and Como avenues has long been a sore point for the city. But because it’s a county road, Lauderdale has been able to do little but implore Ramsey County to get moving on repaving. It appears that that will happen in 2018, Butkowski said.
“This is not a particularly walkable community,” Gaasch added. “That section of Eustis is particularly treacherous and really needs a sidewalk, as well.”
Coffee shop a perennial wish
Park Bugle columnist Clay Christensen and his family moved to Lauderdale in 1970, when it was still a village, “and it still has a village feel,” he said. Christensen served 10 years on the Planning and Zoning Commission and another 11 years on the city council.
When asked about milestone events over the years, for good or ill, Christensen mentioned:
• Lauderdale Elementary School closing in 1973 (“a real hit in terms of community identity”)
• Acquiring the land for Lauderdale Park from the Roseville School District in 1985 (“a major plus”)
• The Highway 280 noise wall, debated for decades and built in 2008 (“highly controversial”)
• The creation of the dog park in 2008 (“It’s turned out to be a great place for people to gather and get to know one another.”)
Lauderdale is a little short on gathering places, and community surveys indicate many residents would like to see a coffee shop or cafe in the city’s mini-commercial area at Larpenteur and Eustis.
Some also feel that the city could be doing more in terms of economic development. One of them is Mary Hamel, a five-year resident and executive director of the Metro Independent Business Alliance. Its mission is to help the Twin Cities maintain its community character through strengthening locally owned independent businesses.
“Our city staff is excellent,” Hamel said, “but nobody is courting potential developers, nobody is dedicated to working on economic development in a serious way; we’re just too small.”
Dan Gumnit, a recent candidate for city council and a 25- year resident of the community, worked on the comprehensive plan that was developed in 1997 (there was also one in 2008) and intends to be involved with the upcoming one, as well.
“In 1997, I don’t think we put a lot of effort into talking to the existing businesses and seeing what their plans were and what they wanted to see happen,” he said. “I expect things will be different this time around.”
One of the focuses of the next plan—which likely won’t be completed until 2018—may be on the future of the industrial corridor on the west side of Highway 280, Butkowski said. She noted that the building at 2520 W. Larpenteur Ave., the former home of Rapit Printing, is slated to be redeveloped for office/light industrial use.
The condition of the city’s housing stock may also need to be addressed. A few new homes are being built, and the former Luther Seminary student housing on Eustis is being redeveloped for public rental.
“I’m astonished by the numbers of young families we have, despite the fact that our homes tend to be on the small size, 30 percent of them under 1,000 square feet,” Gaasch said.
“But a significant number of homes are not in good repair,” she added. “Can we find ways to work with the owners to fix them up?”
A subject that comes up from time to time is whether Lauderdale can continue to go it alone, given its small size, or whether it ought to seek annexation by Falcon Heights or Roseville.
Bob Milligan, a 13-year resident and chair of the committee that drafted the 2008 comprehensive plan, has raised the issue.
“To some degree, it’s a question of identity,” he said. “We don’t have our own police or fire; the only really distinguishing event is the annual Halloween party. I don’t know if anybody would want us, but I think we ought to be willing to at least look at [annexation].”
Gumnit says it’s a legitimate concern, although, “residents, I believe, would overwhelmingly say that they love independent Lauderdale.”
“I don’t see what annexation would get us at this point,” Gaasch said. “We’re resilient, adapt for change and provide a good quality of life. Our citizens have a real relationship with their city.”
Who was Lauderdale anyway?
When the area previously known first as Prospect Hill and then Rose Hill was incorporated as the Village of Lauderdale on Jan. 21, 1949, the naming acknowledged a gift given a half-century earlier.
In the pioneer days, the Gibbs School on what is today the southwest corner of Larpenteur and Cleveland avenues (where the new Bell Museum of Natural History and Planetarium is being constructed) was the only one around.
That remained the case until 1894, when William Lauderdale donated land in Rose Hill for a new school.
Lauderdale was born in New York in 1830. He came to Minnesota in 1852 with his wife, Mary, and two children, originally settling on a claim near Lake Calhoun.
He had a veterinary business, briefly raised dairy cattle and later dealt in real estate, owning the western half of the city that now bears his name.
If you’re interested in learning more about Lauderdale’s past, History of Lauderdale (1974) by Gloria Tow Ruschmeyer is available in the reading room in the Minnesota History Center.
And, if you go to www.ci.lauderdale.mn.us and scroll down to Gift Shop, there is information on how to order a city history that was published in 2000 to celebrate Lauderdale’s 50th anniversary. A companion video, a production of CTV North Suburbs entitled Lauderdale—Our Memories—50 years of History, can be found at vimeo.com/142439662.
Roger Bergerson writes about history and community news regularly in the Park Bugle.