Townships on the agenda this week

Tuesday’s Tale of Two Townships (here’s the packet) has the Council discussing Bridgewater’s refusal to proceed with the Prawer-Gill annexation request and a proposal for a new orderly annexation agreement with Waterford.

Bridgewater first: Bridgewater is right.  The township supervisors made the best choice for both the township and Northfield and provided a thoughtful and concise analysis of the issues than Northfield has yet provided.  Thanks, Bridgewater.

Looking ahead, Bridgewater also proposed several areas where Northfield and Bridgewater could collaborate:

  • To preserve, protect and improve Rice Creek
  • Implement the Northfield Greenway Corridor Plan
  • Upgrade Decker Avenue and 100th Street

Bridgewater has been committed to preserving their rural landscape and environment; Northfield would do well to work with such an experienced partner on these projects of what I think should be mutual interest.  As for the transportation collaboration, that’s more complex but I’d like the Council to consider it seriously and think how such a partnership could be successful.  I would also suggest that working on unsexy projects like improving roads IS economic development.

Waterford, next. The discussion on Tuesday follows up on the June 21, 2010 meeting about the 1980 joint resolution for orderly annexation.  At that meeting, Waterford was clear that it likes the 1980 agreement, but if change is to happen Northfield needs to propose alternatives.  Reasonable enough – if Northfield is looking for change in the agreement, we should make a specific proposal rather than complain generally.  Tuesday we’ll discuss some proposed “key” terms for a possible new agreement.  Jody Gunderson’s staff memo outlined possible new terms (Mr Gunderson noted 8 total, but I only counted 5 + “other terms”):

  • identify and describe an orderly annexation area (no stipulated area for annexation is a chief complaint about the 1980 agreement)
  • Triggering events for annexation
  • Annexation process once triggered
  • Tax reimbursement to the township (10% less each year)
  • Term of the agreement (the lack of an end date has been an issue)
  • Other mutually agreeable terms

I’ve been thinking about this (indeed, I even dreamed about it a few nights ago) and plan to suggest a somewhat more radical strategy for the Council to consider.   The only radical part is starting the discussion NOT with the 1980 agreement, but with the lines on the map (here’s a map from the 2008 Comprehensive Plan showing the relevant boundaries) which make annexation an issue.

Waterford folks have been concerned that Northfield’s urban expansion area and, especially, priority growth area include much of Waterford Township.   Are the lines which delineate the urban expansion and priority growth areas outside the Northfield city limits in the most appropriate place at this time?

I don’t think so.  Urban expansion areas are set by counties and cities under Minnesota’s community-based planning act.  The purpose of the urban growth boundary is to show what a city has determined will be an adequate supply of land for urban expansion in the next 20 years to allow for planning and staging the extension of urban infrastructure.   When Northfield revised its Comprehensive Plan (adopted in 2008), these lines were not redrawn (nor discussed so far as I know).  Since 2008, the City has annexed 530 acres in Greenvale Township which arguably satisfies the entire need for land in the next 20 years.   Even considering the Greenvale annexation is intended for industrial expansion and some additional land might be needed for residential growth, Northfield still might want to redraw its expansion zones in light of our large land acquisition in Greenvale.  Once lines for urban expansion areas are drawn, that’s the trigger to negotiate with the affected township(s) for orderly annexation of the area outside city limits but within the urban expansion area.

So, where do we draw the lines now? I have no answers here, but I have some suggestions for what the Council should consider when thinking about the problem.  Northfield should consider, at least, the following:

  • Preservation of farmland and open space: Where’s the highest quality agricultural land and how can it be preserved for agriculture?
  • Natural resources and natural features: Where are the most threatened, rare, or other desirable natural resources and features?  Rice Creek in Bridgewater Township has been under discussion of late, but there are other areas to consider.  Greenway corridor areas might be given some priority against development.
  • Cost effective and environmentally sensitive extension of infrastructure: Where does it make sense to extend roads and pipes in terms of the reducing dollar cost, maximizing connectivity and minimizing the environmental impact?
  • How much land is enough? If we follow the Comprehensive Plan guidance towards more compact development and prioritizing infill and redevelopment, that suggests we estimate land needs on the conservative side.

If Northfield followed this line of inquiry and lines shifted – not only in the Waterford quadrant, but in other townships – what impact might this have on our relations with Waterford?  Conceivably, Northfield might determine that our urban expansion area doesn’t include Waterford at all.  Perhaps reconsidering the lines would help us determine what area should be included in any annexation agreement with Waterford.  The Comp Plan calls for Northfield to maintain a rural edge; Waterford may be an excellent partner for preserving green space on our north east edge.  As the Bridgewater supervisors pointed out, Northfield and Bridgewater could collaborate on road issues – any parallels in Waterford?  I’m sure I’ve missed issues and hope others can help fill in the picture.

Perhaps our conversations with Waterford have been focused too tightly on the 1980 agreement when we should consider a bigger picture of how Northfield has aready grown to the northwest and how the city may or may not expand in the future.

5 thoughts on “Townships on the agenda this week

  1. Thank you, Betsey, for this background. I hope you will bring forward your suggestions for the council to discuss and consider at the work session Tuesday and I look forward to hearing the discussion.

  2. I am curious about your statement re: Mr. Gunderson’s proposal; I would have thought this would come from the Community development dept, and since the “reorganization ” has not yet occurred which would put Mr. Gunderson in charge of that area… I am mystified.

    On your general analysis: I think you are exactly right; concentrating on the old agreement only exacerbates the points of non-agreement.
    Analyzing a new relationship is a far more productive relationship to pursue.

    Once again, you have identified a better way forward.

    • All I know is the staff report is “submitted by Jody Gunderson and Brian O’Connell” Perhaps Mr O’Connell should be given the credit, instead.

  3. Betsey – I am not “up to date” on all this annexation stuff, but all I want to know is why do we think we have to annex any more property than the 500 acres already annexed? How can we develop more property when I read in the paper we don’t even have enough money to fix the roads in original Northfield that are a mess?
    Personally, I have lived in Northfield since 1972. It was a wonderful sleepy town with two colleges. People worked hard to make it a wonderful community, and we paid high taxes for the opportunity to live here. Then, the secret got out what a neat, small place it was and the developers, with the councils blessing, decided that Northfield should become another Burnsville or Lakeville. Now, with dollar signs dancing overhead, the council wants to annex as much land as they can surrounding Northfield, so it can keep growing. Can anyone on the council tell me specifically why we need or want that kind of growth in this community? I don’t want to see Waterford annexed or Bridgewater. I love being surrounded by farms, that is what makes us unique, that is why we live here. I don’t think I am the only person living in this city that doesn’t want to become just another suburban ring around the cities. You may say “taxes” I say “greed.” If you want to annex, let the people decide. I vote NO.

    • Ann, Our comprehensive plan makes a strong statement about just the picture you paint – Northfield as a small city with a rural edge growing by infill and redevelopment rather than expanding at the edges. This guides my thinking when I say that having annexed 530 acres for industrial growth, Northfield needs to think clearly about if it needs to expand its boundaries further and if so, where. I think Waterford Township can be an excellent partner for helping preserve a green edge to the city and ensuring that suburban development does not simply creep up and down the highways. I hope to continue and expand the discussion of the cost of development in addition to the possible tax base benefits.

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