Citizen Opposition to Proposed Annexation

The Center for Sustainable Living recently posted on an issue that came before the Planning Commission a couple of weeks ago. The CSL post,
“Council to Decide Fate of Agricultural Land on Feb. 4”, includes a letter and a call for action regarding a request, by Johnson-Reiland Construction Inc. of Burnsville, for annexation of 55 acres just east of Oak Lawn Cemetery on Wall Street Road.

At the Jan. 8 meeting, the Commission voted unanimously to recommend denial of the request. (See the background information and staff recommendation here.) The Planning Commission recommendation was then forwarded to the City Council, which has the final authority in these matters.

More than 30 residents turned out at the Planning Commission meeting to comment, and the Commissioners had many more comments via e-mail and letter before the meeting. The sentiments of the roughly four dozen people whose comments we received could be summed up in the words of one e-mailer: “. . . we do not need more development by large outside development companies at the cost of our prime agricultural land.”

The 55 acres in this annexation request consists of land purchased by the developer some time ago; the land was zoned as agricultural at the time of the sale. The land is not within Northfield’s current OR proposed priority growth area. Priority growth areas are identified after considering many factors, e.g. environmentally sensitive areas, transportation connections, existing infrastructure, and many more. The idea behind it is, when we are ready for another round of growth, here are the designated areas which are best suited to future development of one sort or another.

Transportation is a particular concern with this property. There’s really only one route from the property into downtown, and this route is on residential streets which could not handle the daily addition of 1600 cars. (Proposed zoning of 2-4 houses per acre, with the 9.7 trips per day per household that is the American average…. you do the math.)

In addition, the Housing Market Analysis done in 2007 as part of the Comprehensive Plan update process states:

According to the City of Northfield (Community Development Department), there were 700 single-family detached lots in the development pipeline on November 29, 2006. Of that number, 465 (66%) had been built and there were approximately 235 remaining lots. Based on the average absorption pace of 47.7 lots per year in the newer developments, it would take about five years to build out existing projects. However, the overall absorption pace is much slower when including the older projects. Furthermore, the absorption trend has slowed in the past year, so build-out is likely to take somewhat longer.

In short, even before the market tanked, Northfield had a more than adequate housing supply for its projected population growth. Since residential development costs more to service than it generates in tax revenues, residential development in general is a net loss to the city, so we have to be careful. Northfield has experienced excessive (unbalanced) residential growth in the past decade or so, and we are still trying to play catch-up with the demands on our infrastructure, services, and school district.

I heard this week’s Planning Commission work session that the request for annexation had been pulled from the City Council agenda, but I haven’t spoken with anyone to confirm that, and the Feb. 4 documents aren’t yet up on the City website. However, regardless of the outcome of this particular request, the issues raised are significant ones for Northfield, and they should be considered and discussed. Read the post by the Center for Sustainable Living and tell me what you think.


  1. Thanks so much for putting this issue on Locally Grown, Tracy! A lot of us “sustainable types” like myself also need education on the planning process and how development impacts city infrastructure, services, etc.

    When I do the math, their really isn’t a balanced win-win situation, and Johnson-Reiland Construction would be the only clear winners. A net loss to the city, and a net loss to agricultural land.

    January 25, 2008
  2. Jessica Paxton said:

    Tracy, thank you for this post. This is such a relevant issue for the citizens of Northfield, whether you live near this particular parcel of land (as I do) or not. This proposal is “obscene” on so many levels — worse of all the fact that it seems as if (at least to me) that Johnson-Reiland is basically requesting that the city bend established ordinances just to accommodate them (and to do so quickly and “under the radar” of the general population). I attended the Planning Commission meeting on Jan. 8 and was encouraged by the resident turn-out (I counted much more than 30 people!) and their heart-felt comments, as well as those made by members of the Planning Commission and City Planner Dan Olson. But this isn’t the end. This is the sort of unnecessary development that could have a really unfortunate domino effect on this community — and others across the state and across the nation. We have an opportunity to set an example, by continuing to cherish our rural heritage.

    January 25, 2008
  3. If people knew what a rare and highly coveted resource they have in this black gold spread upon this Minnesota earth, they would never use it for anything like housing or factories. It is sacrilegious to do so at this point.

    Main Entry:
    Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Latin sacrilegium, from sacrilegus one who robs sacred property, from sacr-, sacer + legere to gather, steal — more at legend
    14th century

    1 : a technical and not necessarily intrinsically outrageous violation (as improper reception of a sacrament) of what is sacred because consecrated to God 2 : gross irreverence toward a hallowed person, place, or thing
    — sac·ri·le·gious Listen to the pronunciation of sacrilegious Listen to the pronunciation of sacrilegious \?sa-kr?-?li-j?s also -?l?-\ adjective
    — sac·ri·le·gious·ly adverb
    — sac·ri·le·gious·ness noun

    January 25, 2008
  4. Bruce Morlan said:

    Excellent work, Northfield! I am very much in favor of this sort of thoughtful attention to all the needs of all the people. In just a short time (say, 50 years) we are going to be erecting statues to the planners who preserved the farmland we need to support our needs. Planning commissions, who are able to look beyond the next election, are the best hope we have for such foresight.

    January 25, 2008