I was asked by Suzanne Rook of the Northfield News for comments on the proposed annexation of land in the northwest. Some of you may have read her article in Wednesday’s paper on the joint EDA-Planning Commission Work Session last Tuesday night. It is my expectation that she is writing a piece for Saturday’s paper.
Several of the people who read my comments have asked me to post the complete statement on Locally Grown. I have done so below.
There will be a public hearing on the issue at next Tuesday night’s Planning Commission meeting.
You asked for my take on the upcoming annexation request. I will attempt to briefly summarize my perspective. I would also suggest that you directly contact the other two-thirds of the “Troublesome Trio”, Ron Griffith and Alice Thomas, who, along with myself, continue to ask questions about this request. You might also want to speak to the Chair, Greg Colby.
I have served on the Planning Commission for five years. During that time, I have learned that one of the most alarming actions, if not THE most alarming, the Planning Commission can take is going against perhaps the most primary and important document of the Commission, the Future Land Use Map.
When the concept of this annexation request was first introduced to the Planning Commission, almost all of the land being considered was located outside of the city’s Priority Growth Area. Best Practices indicate that a city should use up the available land (in our case, several hundred acres) before annexing in additional land. Generally, the answer to such a request would be a straight-forward “no”. We, I guess I’m referring to the “Troublesome Trio”, have just been, at least in my mind, asking for the compelling reasons for which we should ignore the standard and recommended procedures and grant the request.
Over the past year, the land for which annexation is being requested has been back-filled with additional acres so that now about 40% of the land is within the Priority Growth Area. The total area now being considered is 530 acres. Folks with a history in this area have suggested that it is the largest request in anyone’s memory.
As you may have heard in the two joint EDA-Planning Commission Work Sessions that you attended (I’m not sure that you were at the the first of three, back about a year ago), everyone agrees that Northfield needs additional commercial land, for tax base and job creation. At least according to my sense of the situation, it has been the Planning Commission’s unspoken agreement that we would only annex land for commercial purposes, at least for the foreseeable future.
The City Council, about a year ago, voted to sweep aside the usual requirement that there be a Concept Plan for any land annexed into the city. Therefore, the Planning Commission has been forced to consider this request with only a colored pencil drawing representing, I guess, a vague idea of how the land might be developed. As you may have noted in the staff’s report, “The applicant will not be required to adhere to the concept plan”.
This apparently meaningless drawing shows about 30% of the land being developed as office space, 25% of the land being developed as mixed-use or housing, 25% as light industrial, 10% as retail and 10% as public space. The land to be developed as light industrial, what we’ve been told for about two years is Northfield’s greatest need, doesn’t even occur until Phase 3 and Phase 4 of the project. I can’t speak for the rest of the Commission but at least for me, if we’re going to “break the rules”, we should only do so with the assurance that the end result will be the meeting of the community’s greatest need.
Then there is the size of the parcel being considered for annexation. The City’s Comprehensive Economic Development Plan says we need 120 acres. The EDA has told us that they disagree and that we need 220 acres. The Chamber of Commerce has argued that we need 200 to 300 acres. I hesitate to speak for the “Troublesome Trio”, but I think we’ve just been asking for the data on which they base their recommendations which differ so substantially from the CEDP. Again, I would be more comfortable “breaking the rules” if the reasons were clear and explicit.
At least for me, it comes down to wanting to hear the compelling reasons for “breaking the rules” for this particular parcel, I would like to hear the basis for annexing in almost four times the recommended amount, and I would like to hear how the ultimate decision-makers, the City Councilors, are going to assure that this land be used for light industrial and not housing.
I hope this statement has been helpful to you. If you have any other questions, please let me know.