Thoughts on Annexation in the Northwest

DairyCows.jpgI 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.

Suzanne –

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.

Thanks much,

Ross

196 thoughts on “Thoughts on Annexation in the Northwest”

  1. Dave: Tracy asked, not once, but multiple times, about the specificity of the number of requests. If there is in your mind, or in reality, a technical problem with the vote, then it was incumbent upon the staff present to give the PC the guidance they needed, as to how to construct the voting procedure.
    Surely the staff would not have an agenda to have the PC make an invalid vote, when their intent was so clear? Is your questioning of the process (#154) intending to say that the vote was invalid because it was not constructed properly?
    You say your understanding is that the city council can’t approve the PC’s vote because of the way it was handled… Is that your personal understanding, or have you spoken with an authority who has stated this opinion?

  2. Kiffi: Good questions.

    I am speaking based upon personal knowledge only. First, I understand that the Planning Commission’s vote is merely advisory on annexation. So, perhaps the issue is moot.

    But, if it is not advisory, and if there are two requests – one from St. Olaf, and one from Land Vista, then a 6-1 vote to accept all of St. Olaf’s land and part of the other request could mean just about anything.

    Is it a 6-1 vote to have the St. Olaf property be designated for business use?
    Is it a 6-1 vote to deny the other request because it has too much land?

    Perhaps it would be helpful to see the actual resolution.

    Better yet, the Council should ask the landowners if they will agree to a 30 day extension on the requests so that the Planning Commission can go back and do what they were supposed to do – Vote yes or no on the specific requests, and give the reasons why. Specifically, should the Council deny Land Vista’s request because it is too large? If Land Vista maintains it is all or nothing, is the Planning Commission recommending nothing or all?

    Or, best of all, the Council should just ignore the Planning Commission vote. It is very similar to the Target circumstance when we twice asked the Planning Commission for their recommendations, and twice we got a non-responsive answer. So, we were forced to go ahead without their recommendations. I don’t know what a 6-1 vote means for these two request.

    Ross or Tracy: Could you explain what you think you did with the vote?

  3. Sounds like a couple people on this blog who wanted the whole land grab (530 acres) are not content with the Planning Commission vote and would like it declared null and void.

  4. David –

    Not to get caught up in a technicality, I’ll leave that to you lawyers, but my understanding is that an annexation request comes from the property owner.

    Furthermore, Staff told the Commission that the City Council has relatively great flexibility in taking action on an annexation request.

    But, as you pointed out, given the power relationship between Commission and Council, perhaps the point i moot.

    – Ross

  5. David – Here’s what I wrote down regarding what we actually did at Tuesday’s meeting.

    The motions approved 6-1 were:

    1. Recommend to the City Council that they approve the amendment to the Future Land Use Map to designate the portion of the Sorem property west of Garret Avenue from “Residential Cluster” to “Business Park/Light Industry” and include that property in the “Priority Growth Area” of the City. The Fink and Lysne properties would be located within the “Urban Expansion Area”, but not withing the “Priority Growth Area”.

    2. Recommend to the City Council that they approve the approx. 354 acres consisting of the Sorem Property and the St. Olaf property.

    Findings to support the land use map change and the annexation:

    • The City’s property tax base will increase as payments are made by the new businesses that would locate in the annexation area.
    • An estimated 4000 new employees will be employed within the business park at full build-out. In addition, new businesses may move into Northfield to support the new businesses in the business park.
    • Commercial and industrial infill and redevelopment could be spurred on within City limits since more land is available within City limits for these land uses, thereby lowering the price of commercial and industrial land within City limits.
    • The land use plans of both the 1988 and the 2001 Comprehensive Plans are achieved since both Plans show industrial land uses in the area.
    • By excluding the Fink and Lysne properties from the “Priority Growth Area” and the annexation, the City can require that the Sorem property, which is closer to existing City limits, will develop first.

    Findings to support the reduction of land annexed from the initial request of 530 acres to 354 acres:

    • The City does not require such a large tract of land for business park and light industrial growth.
    • The proposed annexation area is located far from the developed areas of the City and encourages urban sprawl.
    • The City desires to preserve agricultural land outside its City limits.

    Ross – does this tally with your notes and memory? The minutes haven’t yet been distributed, so I can’t consider this the final word on Tuesday’s actions.

  6. Just a detail, but in what alternate reality will there be 4,000 jobs on that land? I suppose if full buildout is 50 years from now and the population in the metro region doubles and the Cedar Avenue corridor is fully developed and no land in Lakeville is available, maybe this could happen.
    Let’s hope the rest of the findings aren’t part of the same fairy tale assumptions.

  7. Ross: Does the City have the flexibility to annex just the Sorem property and not the other two properties included in the request?

    What is the backup plan if Sorem/Fink/Lynse say no to the split request even if it is possible? Would the Planning Commission recommend all or would it recommend nothing?

  8. David – My understanding, based on answers we received from staff, is that the city council does have the discretion to do just that.

    The first vote taken on Tuesday’s meeting was a motion to recommend approval of the annexation request for all 530 acres, which failed 4-3. I couldn’t begin to guess what the vote might be (or may have been) if it really was an all-or-nothing scenario.

  9. David –

    As you know, Tracy and I are just Running-Dog Lackeys of the Chamber of Commerce. The letter(s) that we received from the Chamber specified 320 acres northwest of the hospital.

    We got as close as we could with the St. Olaf and Sorem properties at 354 acres. Oh Master, please don’t tell us that you are not pleased with our actions.

    It is time to turn your attention to the City Council.

    – Ross

  10. Tracy: Maybe the Planning Commission should have a backup plan considering Land Vista has repeatedly said that it was an all or nothing deal. A 4-3 vote would suggest that “No.” is the answer if it is all or nothing.

    Ross: This is not a Chamber request for annexation; it is a landowner request. By the way, did the NDDC take an official position on the annexation? What was it?

  11. Just for anyone who cares to listen … after the initial FACT that this was a request from four landowners … it has seemed, considering the endless arguments/pushes made, and the lack of even considering alternatives, it has SEEMED to be also a request from both the Chamber and the EDA.

    The EDA chair, Rick Estenson, did put together a serious, rather in-depth rationale, which he read at the public hearing. I can’t remember hearing such a statement from the Chamber; have I forgotten?

    But I do, definitely, remember hearing Mr. Larson of Land Vista say several times “all or nothing”, but then at the last hearing he did, rather un-strongly say something like, “there’s always negotiation”, so …

    Any company who wanted to come here for a large acreage development would do so whether the land was annexed or not; it hasn’t stopped people in the past (the dread T experience) and it won’t in the future. And by the time there are the mythical 4000 employees there, it isn’t going to benefit the taxes of anyone living here now, unless its a “newborn” who stays in town for its whole life.

    This has just been an exercise in political unreality; for a town that thinks it is so “special”, it seems to be mainly striving to replicate the ubiquitous model.

    Sorry to be so “crabby”, but I think there’s been a lot of posturing around this issue.

  12. In today’s Nfld News:

    Article: City meets with farmers about annex alternatives

    Commentary: I am Soil, don’t be so quick to get rid of me

    Editorial: Annexation request raises questions

    The city needs a business park, but the Planning Commission exceeded its authority by creating its own annexation recommendation. It should’ve voted to table the request to get more information or to ask the city to research the smaller alternative annexation. And the city needs to explain the value of taking the undevelopable land before the council votes on the proposal.

  13. Tracy: Thanks for providing the rationales. Why didn’t the Planning Commission annex the whole 530, and zone the Lynse and Fink property so that it can’t be developed before the Sorem property?

    Isn’t Larry Larson right that the best transportation system is probably going to come off of 19 along the Lynse and Fink properties? Don’t these three properties work together? Why have this fight later when Lynse and Fink might not want to join Northfield or might develop their own land for some other use?

    Ross: Please feel free to comment further.

  14. David –

    You wondered why I voted to annex 354 acres instead of 530. I will attempt to briefly summarize how I came to my conclusion.

    1. Personally, I think annexing the land in the Northwest Territory is not the best option. Although as the EDA and Staff point out, it is the only parcel currently requesting annexation, if we are truly working on a twenty-year timeline, it would seem that the other options merit an additional 12 to 18 months of exploration. Both the Waterford Township option and the Armstrong Road option make more sense than the Northwest Territory, at least to me. Both of these options are next to existing infrastructure, both options have railway access, and both options are close to existing restaurants and services, thus generating additional income for Northfield businesses.

    2. I think that the cost to make the Northwest Territory “shovel ready” for development, a priority for the EDA, is much more than $5 million. Based on two other analyses conducted by Staff, comparisons to two other current projects in Minnesota and looking at The Crossing, I think the cost will be at least $15 million. As I recall about The Crossing, the site is between 6 and 7 acres. So, for a project on a little over 6 acres, in the middle of existing infrastructure, the cost is $4 million and for a project on over 500 acres, some distance from existing infrastructure, the cost is $5 million. I realize that we’re not comparing apples with apples, however, regardless of the fruit, it just doesn’t add up for me.

    3. The proposed financing instruments for the infrastructure costs are: General Obligation Bond debt financing, Water and Sewer Revenue Bond debt financing, Water and Sewer Revenue Bonds, Tax Increment Financing, Greater Minnesota Business Development Public Infrastructure Grant Program, Tax Abatement, and “a combination of any and all of the previous financing mechanisms”. With the exception of the one grant possibility, all of the potential sources are debt that requires repayment. The plan is to have a successful development repay the debt. With Northfield’s relatively high land costs, I am concerned that the competion for a business may inspire our leaders to shift the infrastructure costs from the developer to the community and the burden would thus be borne by our existing tax base.

    4. If the City takes on $5 million, or $15 million, of infrastructure costs, either for the short-term on the long term, and the industrial development world does not beat a path to our door, I wonder how long the community will be willing to bear the burden of the debt service. I worry that three years from now the professionals and experts will be telling us that there is little hope that we will ever be able to develop that land for industrial purposes and that we need to allow the development of housing and big box retail there if we hope to get the infrastructure costs repaid. Stranger things have happened in Northfield, again and again and again.

    However, in spite of these concerns, as well as those regarding the size of the project, the environmental issues and the transportation impact, I arrived at the Planning Commission meeting ready to vote to recommend annexation. It all boiled down to the fact that the EDA wanted us to recommend annexation to the Council. I believe that our citizen boards and commissions each have an area of interest and expertise and I respect their interest, expertise, work and recommendations. I know that the original Land Committee of the EDA, consisting, I believe, of Bill Cowles, Mark Moors and Paul Smith, had been working on the possibility of annexing the Northwest Territory for at least two years. I felt that it was appropriate to support their efforts.

    When one Commissioner proposed annexing 354 acres instead of 530, I thought that perhaps we could get the best of both worlds. The EDA could get their green field development option they sought and there might still be both market demand and City resources left over to pursue the Waterford Township and Armstrong Road options. I voted against the 530 acres and for the 354 acres.

    It has been pretty clear to the Planning Commission for about a year that the City Council will vote to annex all 530 acres. I believe that they will take this action at tomorrow night’s Council Meeting. However, I needed to try to make what I believed to be the best decision in the situation that we faced in our role as the Planning Commission.

    I hope this is of interest to you. Have a Happy Fathers’ Day.

    – Ross

  15. Thank you for laying out your reasons for supporting the smaller annexation. I do hope people are aware that the Council vote is tomorrow night. NNews report indicates that public comment will be taken.

    Jon Denison is the only Coucil member I have spoken with personally on this and he is quite set on taking in the whole 530 acres. Anyone know what any of the others think?

  16. I also think, from comments the council has made, beginning in July of 2007, that they will overrule the Planning Commission and take the entire 530 Acres.

    Will they insist, that they have a letter from the sellers, that was made part of their resolution at that July 2007 meeting, to honor the new regulations that accompany the new Comp Plan? Or will that intent fall through “the cracks” ?

    Will there be any discussion of the impacts of taking this action when the entire economy is on such a serious downturn?

    The manner in which this process has been advanced, and so pushed by the EDA, makes me believe (will you say cynically?) that there is a developer waiting in the wings. If there is not, then the entire acreage could facilitate the proposed Greenway Corridor, as the properties to the west which the PC did not recommend annexing have the most wetlands and woods.

    Will the council discuss, if they want the entire acreage, the benefits of having the two western properties to facilitate the Greenway Corridor?

    Worse case scenario for the 50 year future… Will NF need an agricultural beltway to grow its own food?

  17. Ross – thanks for the clear outline of questions about the NW annexation and for your work trying to get these questions discussed by staff, Planning Commission and Council.

  18. Ross: Thanks for your comments. Here is why I think the Council should reject your reasoning:

    1. Not the best option – Right now, it is the only option.
    2. Costs too much – Annexation doesn’t cost anything.
    3. Not economically feasible – Not the City’s problem.
    4. Use for other purposes – That is for a future Planning Commission.

    What I don’t understand is why not just annex the whole 530, and put land restrictions on the Lynse and Fink properties? Those two properties are needed for transportation and water management.

  19. Kiffi,

    Your point on the Greenway Corridor is part of exactly the type of agenda I believe the community needs to push for. If this land becomes part of the city, we owe it to ourselves to have open, natural space out there for community well being- not just industry and commerce.

  20. David –

    I hope that you had a nice Fathers’ Day. I wonder if you are as succinct when you’re writing legal documents.

    1. As Joel Walinski said, “It’s the only option so far this year”. It would be hard to characterize jumping on it as long-range planning.

    2. Annexation probably only costs some staff time, some legal work and maybe a consultant or two. However, the EDA says that we need “shovel ready” land so that the developers will come. I would be interested in hearing what you think the infrastructure costs will be for 530 acres in the Northwest Territory.

    3. You’re right, like everything else, it’ll be the taxpayers’ problem.

    4. Actually, the Planning Commission can recommend whatever it believes is best for the community…and then the City Council makes their own decision.

    It is pretty clear, at least to me, that the Council will follow your recommendation at their meeting tonight.

    Thanks for following up,

    Ross

  21. Tonight the council will have the opportunity to show that they can have a thoughtful, and meaningful, IN-DEPTH policy discussion…
    Will they step up to the plate?

    If they overrule the PC, they must submit their reasons,in writing, to the PC.
    If they do overrule, I hope their reasons will not just be the pro forma and fairly meaningless jargon that has come in some of the recommendations from Land Vista, and Staff.

    Come to think of it, the last written statement from Land Vista, which came to the council’s work session last week, had some pretty wild and unsupportable claims as to various numbers… numbers of commuters who would now work in town, etc., etc., etc.

    I hope the council can do better.

  22. For the EDA to call for shovel-ready land is a blatant stealing from the poor to feed the rich … if a business cannot afford to build the necessary infrastructure then maybe they are looking at the wrong site. Any comments I made in favor of the annexation assumed this was just a changing of the paperwork. If the city is promising to build out the infrastructure without the beneficiary even being at the table is unbelievable, and I would have been speaking out against this annexation loudly. Luckily for me, I am not in Northfield’s taxable space (yet).

  23. Bruce: No promises have been made for infrastructure build-out. It is not clear (to me and others to whom I have spoken) why the Planning Commission keeps bringing up this issue for annexation.

    Furthermore, if infrastructure costs were the Planning Commission’s concerns, then a recommendation of no annexation makes more sense than a small annexation, which will carry a higher cost per acre.

    Finally, If the costs are too high, the City can always not approve build-out. Without control of the land, nothing can happen.

  24. I spoke with three Council members yesterday afternoon, before the vote last night. Jim Pokorney did not see a problem with an annexation of this size. He explained how things would play out. He said EDA would be in the middle of things. He said the City would buy an option from farmers through Land Vista that would freeze the price for 5-10 years. The City would hold the exclusive option and farmers would be guaranteed that price. I wonder if the figure is in the $40,000/acre range, a figure I’ve been hearing.

    He favors a high tech office park and light industry. Not things like trucking or ethanol. He envisions giving short term tax incentives (TIFs) which would give the City leverage in working with developers. The City could increase the incentive if the plan was multistory, for example. It could cost $3 million to bring infrastructure out there. It would be expected that first developments would be on the east end, working to the west.

    Then I spoke with Kris Vohs and Arnie Nelson. Neither of them were aware the City would be buying an option. I asked that they bring it up at the meeting.

    Mayor Lansing on KYMN radio this morning confirmed the City would secure the option and sell it to the developer. He said the discussion went for l-l/2 hours so I assume fine points were covered. What does it cost (per year?) to secure such an option, anyone??

  25. The development should pay for any extension of services. Period. If they can’t afford to pay for the extension of services, services should not be extended. If they can’t pay for roads, roads should not be provided. TIF use is regulated and restricted. I don’t see how you can allow more TIF if the structure is multi-storied.

    The city can probably get an option at little or no cost, but should be very careful–the city should not buy the land. The developer should buy the land. (Or, if you had a decent Industrial Corporation, they could buy the land.) The city should not be in the land business–they should be in the business to provide services to the TAXPAYERs.

  26. The vote was “easy” compared to the work ahead of the Council now.

    They will have to structure an annexation agreement agreeable to all parties.
    They will have to structure a model for a development agreement, with the standards they want to hold to.
    They will have to insist on a Master development plan for the entire acreage, obviously more detailed for the East end, and more conceptual for the west end , which SHOULD remain in greenway easements, futur green corridors and some parkland.
    They will have to figure out initial infrastructure costs and benefits, and financing sources.
    They will have to negotiate a compensation package for Greenvale TWP. residents for the land their twp. is losing … and from Greg Langer’s comments last night that is not going to be cheap… and that’s a cost not mentioned before.
    AND … last night there was no mention of the letter from the landowners, agreeing to abide by the new comp plan development regulations, which was required by resolution in the Council meeting of July 7, 2007. What happened to that? It must be done or the resolution rescinded, but cannot just be left as a loose thread.

    I still find it hard to believe there is not a developer , waiting in the wings, somewhere.

    Will there now be ANY interest by the EDA in developing infill sites? If the EDA has money to buy options on this land, then there should be equal amounts for the core business district, or any site within the commercial districts… Alas, no active project talk on that from the EDA.

    Could the EDA make a wise use of some of their money by paving the City’s land in the back (west) of the Q Block? A lot cheaper than the $2500.00 per parking stall ( ! ) for a ramp structure, useful during DJJD, and using that lot would drive the warrant numbers necessary to get a stop light at Hwy 3 and Third.

    The vote was the easy part for the council; now let’s see what happens…

  27. Kiffi,

    Not a comment against you, but a comment against the policies of the cities.

    Why must everything be about paving everything over, and everything be about “Oh, this will be useful for DJJD”.

    I think that DJJD has its purpose, and that it brings tourism and attention to Northfield, but I get the feeling a lot of times that the city is more focused towards not impacting this event, or supporting this event over supporting the needs of its residents.

    Even if you paved this lot over, how many spaces would you obtain?

    I would much rather see the use of remote lots, and a bus shuttle similar to what was used between events for DJJD. (I think it was 2 years ago?) If you had a button, the rides between locations such as Downtown, Central Park, the Ice Arena, and the Rodeo Grounds were free.

    Even a tractor or horse drawn wagon on the bikepath between the rodeo grounds and Bridge Square would be a nice touch.

    Something needs to be done to minimize the amount of cars downtown at DJJD. It is way too congested. Perhaps alternate parking at Carleton College, the Middle and High Schools, and Northfield Ballroom, with a shuttle would help? I would love to see downtown from second to seventh, washington to water, completely locked down to vehicles, and make it all pedestrian only during DJJD, and have folks walk or be bussed in. The new water street lot could be used for handicap parking/access as well as bicycle parking and transit drop off. The “Beer Garden” can be moved to the 4th Street Bridge.

    Anyway, I digress.

    It looks like Northfield is getting bigger…

  28. Kiffi: It’s not “they” who have to do all of the work; it is “we”.

    My primary concern as “we” move forward is that we have a 4-3 “no” vote against at the Planning Commission, and a 7-0 “yes” vote at the Council.

    My question for the Planning Commission (including Tracy and Ross) is whether the Planning Commission will accept the Council and staff’s direction on this, and move forward toward making the business park a reality. Or, will they continue to try to assert their will and vision in the process.

    Tracy or Ross – Do either of you care to comment on how the Council’s actions will be perceived by the Planning Commission’s four “no” voters?

  29. David –

    Of course the Commission will accept the Council’s direction on this issue. I think that it’s very clear to everyone who serves on Boards and Commissions, particularly over the past 9 to 12 months, that the Commissions recommend and the Council rules.

    I don’t think any of us, Alice, Greg, Ron or myself, were surprised by the Council’s decision. We were just trying to recommend what we thought would be the best for Northfield, given our experiences, expectations and evaluation of the particular situation.

    In our efforts to implement the Council’s wishes, it would be helpful to have a little more specificity. Personally, I think that the Council’s written response to the Commission’s recommendation will provide that additional clarity.

    Tracy has offered to post both the Commission’s recommendation and the Council’s response on this website…as long as they are both tied with a bow. Good luck with that Tracy.

    Thanks much,

    Ross

  30. David : I continue to believe it is “they” who have to do the work, i.e., the council persons are the ones with the vote, and the override on the Planning Commission.

    “We”, and that must by fact must include you, do not have the vote.

    How does it help to challenge the PC, as you did in your previous post? They will do, as we all should, what they believe is the right thing to do; if the council overrides them, and I believe they will on virtually all of the annexation issues, then we must hold the council accountable to us, and by Charter , to the Planning Commission.

    This will not be an easy process.

  31. Kiffi and Ross: The Planning Commission’s job is not to do what they think is right; their job is to “plan” what the Council decides is right. The Council’s responsibility is to the people who elected them; the Planning Commission’s responsibility is to the Council who appointed them.

    In the end, the Staff’s recommendation and the Council’s decision reflect the Planning Commission’s desire that the eastern portion develop first. The staff and the Council wisely decided that Northfield can’t control the western portion if it is outside the City limits.

    Ross: If the Planning Commission needs more specificity; ask the Staff whose recommendation the Council accepted. That is what they get paid to do. This doesn’t have to be a difficult process, especially on a 7-0 vote.

  32. David – I can’t speak for the Planning Commission as a whole, but my impression based on discussion with various individuals was that each commissioner believes in the need for expanded commercial tax base, and an increased focus on jobs.

    My driving concern regarding this annexation (and I was one of the “yes” votes, but just barely) is that the City does not yet have adequate controls in place, or the political will, to shape and direct the growth that may occur there.

    The best-case scenario is that the land is used for a blue-ribbon (TIP Strategies’ phrase) business park using best practices of sustainability, filled with companies identified as being in one of the target industries (again, referring back to the excellent Economic Development Plan adopted two summers ago.) If this happens, it will be wonderful. I think that’s what we’re going for.

    However, the worst-case (or, I might even say, more likely) scenario, based on how Northfield has handled similar issues in the past, is that Wal-Mart will come in and purchase a bunch of land for warehousing or some such, and the City will just roll over with mouthings about “the will of the people” or “commercial taxes” (crappy entry-level jobs notwithstanding) and not be thoughtful or careful enough about using our land assets wisely for the benefit of this and future generations of Northfielders.

    Annexation is a decision made by the elected representatives of Northfield taxpayers. I hope that Northfield taxpayers can be educated about and mobilized around the issues surrounding possible development of this acreage, and keep the pressure on our elected officials to plan strategically (rather than simply reacting), and to aim high, not just settle for the first or easiest thing that comes along.

  33. I really appreciate your thoughts, Tracy. I am impressed with the Planning Commission as a group. I am more confident in their ability to analyze a situation than I am in the City Council at this point. I was quite shocked at how uninformed some Council members were, just hours before they were to cast a vote Monday night on the annexation.

    I hope the print copy of the NNews today carries more details than the website report Griff posted. Can somebody on this list who attended the Monday Council meeting tell me if it was Linus or Greg Langer that spoke?

    I stopped at Farmers Market in Northfield last week and was struck by the number of sellers who live in the Greenvale Township area whose operations will be disrupted by this business park and associated roads.

  34. In today’s Nfld News: Building could be years out for acres annexed.

    City leaders agree the project will take time, energy and before it’s over, money. But if they can pull off the business park of the Economic Development Authority’s dreams, it will be a model for other cities full of green industries: medical, technological and those focusing on sustainability. Economic Development Authority Chair Rick Estenson doesn’t expect construction to begin at the site, west of Northfield Hospital, for at least two years. And when development of a new business/industrial park planned for the site does begin, it’s likely to come slowly.

    Editorial: Annexing land is good first step.

    But pulling this land into the city’s borders is just the first step. The next step is to attract the right kind of business to locate in the park. To do that, the city must have a plan, beginning with the hiring of a new economic development manager. It must also do some public relations work to eliminate the stigma that the city isn’t welcoming to business. The city needs to market itself. Without these basic steps in tough economic times, the annexation of 530 acres of farmland could be a moot point.

  35. Tracy: My fear is that the Planning Commission has such a restricted view of what is “appropriate” development, that annexation may prove to be an empty gesture.

    There are quite a few processes to go through to make the property shovel-ready. If every step is going to be made as difficult as this step, businesses aren’t going to wait; they are going to go someplace else.

  36. David: If you want this annexed land to be shovel-ready, you are going to get a rude awakening when you see how fast your taxes go UP …instead of the relief you have been seeking.

    As to your comments in #188, you are incorrect, IMHO, in your sequencing of events. The Planning Commission makes their decision and then the council council approves, or not.

    The idea that all boards and commissions are simply rubber stamps for the council is offensive to the role of volunteer citizen Boards and Commissions. If they are not to do “what they think is right”, but only carry out the directions of the council, then there is absolutely no need for them to exist at all.

  37. Kiffi: At some point the land is going to have to be shovel-ready if a business park is going to happen. It is the Planning Commission’s job to make that happen. It is time to change the Planning Commission’s mode of thought from “if” to “how”.

    I am sure the EDA and staff are willing to lend a hand. both “bodies” understand the nature of the task.

    Ross and other “no” voters: Please don’t use, “we need more specificity”, or “we are doing what we think is right” as stalling tactics.

  38. I guess I don’t know why there is so much speculation on how much it will cost and how long it will take to develop this site. There are dozens of examples around the area that would provide models and cost comparisons. It wouldn’t take much to estimate costs and subsidies and eventual tax revenue and jobs.
    As for being a green development, the trend over the last five years has made green the norm rather than an experiment. Again, there are lots of models out there. It’s not a matter of using this as a competitive advantage but just needing to do it to get in the game. And aren’t the costs in the staff report?
    I recall the staff report estimated 4,000 jobs from the full buildout, a number that would require the equivalent of a new Medtronics headquarters — a number that is pretty far-fetched, given gas prices and the remote location in Northfield and the fact that there is so much new, tricked out, empty space available throughout the metro.
    Airlake Industrial Park in Lakeville, with a better location and larger worker pool, has taken 40 years to develop, has 1,500 acres of land and 150 businesses and just recently hit 4,000 jobs.
    That doesn’t mean development is impossible. Faribault seems to be quite aggressive in its efforts.
    My point is that it would be a lot more productive to discuss real numbers and real solutions rather than hopeful guesses and skeptical fears.

  39. David: I cannot imagine how you could possibly think it is the PC’s job to “make it happen” as far as the land being “shovel ready”. As you have said many times their role is to “plan”.

    The EDA, Council and Staff are the ones who have the charge to make things happen. What truly concerns me is all the talk …from everyone but the Planning Commission … about the essential need for this land to be shovel ready. Of course the major infrastructure costs will be reimbursed by the ultimate user…
    But how far in the future is that? Who has the $$$ to put up the initial costs? The EDA?, not without levying a big number.
    Remember that the EDA and the HRA both have the ability to levy taxes; who will pay initially… and when is that?
    Will all those who have been asking for property tax relief (yourself) included) be appalled by a big economic development tax levy on their next bill?
    No one in the “City” is answering this, however there are constant allusions to the need to be shovel ready.
    When will the Council and EDA address the funding sources for the initial costs?

  40. Kiffi: The Planning Commission doesn’t have to make it shovel-ready. They have to plan how to make it shovel-ready. The decision about spending the money will ultimately be the Council’s.

  41. David: In your post of June 19, 8:25 AM, you say it “is the Planning Commission’s job to make it happen” in reference to Shovel readiness.
    That is what you say.
    So how what do you suggest they (PC) do, other than vague remarks about “planning for” or “implementing what the council thinks is right”.

    If you are certain about the practical functionality of each group, could you please give some specifics about the steps you would hope to see the PC take?

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