As I would have predicted from the hail of e-mails Councilmembers recieved before Monday’s meeting, there were many people at the meeting to listen and/or speak to the issue of annexation. Here’s my guide to the situation:
What we did: The Council voted unanimously to amend the annexation ordinance to require that landowners seeking annexation would be required to notify the township, but not (as was previously the case) obtain township approval. This change brings the Northfield process in line with state law and means the township cannot veto annexation. This change does not nullify the annexation agreements we have in place with townships nor precludes adopting new agreements in the future (annexation agreements are contracts which trump the ordinance).
What we’re not doing: There are no plans to annex land beyond the 530 acres which have been annexed in the northwest corner of town for the proposed business park. My ex-Planning Commission perspective is that the city has been far too quick to annex in the past and should any landowners come forward to ask for annexation, the Council must be very careful in assessing the value of the land to Northfield before agreeing to any further annexation. The southern edge of my ward, Ward 2, is a part of Northfield where the Council was quick to annex (under an annexation agreement, incidentally) without a long term plan for integrating that land into the community or considering the edge of the city.
What we should do: I understand and appreciate the concern about the character of the land surrounding Northfield and I believe agricultural land and open space are extremely valuable to Northfield economically, aesthetically, and socially. But rather than having townships vote yes or no on annexation, there are other tools which would give township residents more input into how the land develops to ensure compatibility of uses and preservation of natural resources and ag. land. For instance (Right now, I’m not advocating for any one of these except the last one, but I think all merit exploration and serious consideration).
- Northfield, county and township boards could establish joint planning boards for orderly annexation areas (state law allows creation of joint planning boards to plan and administer areas within 2 miles of the city limits).
- Northfield, like the Dundas and Bridgewater township agreement, could reconfigure its Planning Commission to specifically include township members.
- Dundas Mayor Glenn Switzer proposed a regional planning board in his first term as mayor
- More informal processes and meetings to stay engaged with towns and counties should certainly be part of the process.
What we didn’t do: I’m not sure the Council and staff did an effective job of explaining the vision of the city: to grow compactly and densely, to conserve land, to work regionally (this is all in the Comp Plan) and focusing the decision on Monday at the legal language level at which it should have been addressed (though Mary Rossing did address some issues in her Annexation 101 column in the Northfield News). Northfield has just annexed a whopping amount of land which will take some time to digest. With no plans to add more land to the city anytime soon, this is the time to consider how best work collaboratively on growth in the future.