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,



  1. Anne Bretts said:

    You nailed it, David. The hospital set the stage for all of this and leaves the city hard-pressed to oppose private development nearby.

    May 12, 2008
  2. Holly Cairns said:

    I live north of town, but with enough luck, we’ll move, soon. I’d like neighbors. It’s a vast farmland out here. So…. keeping that in mind:

    I like the Greenvale township new business park proposal, even if we never can sell our house. What about building “green energy” plants? Business parks don’t have to be the ugly factories (ugly factory = insert factory from Pink Floyd fame). I like growth, and I like balance. I like protected farmland, and business growth, too.

    Dakota county is in the “information gathering stage” and has recently had an open house, where
    new road proposals
    were on display. The road/s will probably need to go around protected farm land, which might hinder
    alternative one
    . I went to the open house and the consultant said alternative one was 90 something percent out of the question. I wish I had taken her name.

    I’d like to see a continuance/ addition to the
    Dodd construction
    — a road to Northfield and a light rail line.

    For the Light Rail, which I hope could be faster than the current rail, there are some areas which would lead towards the Cedar bridge…

    May 12, 2008
  3. John S. Thomas said:

    Seeing that document, scares the beejeezus out of me.

    With that possible extension coming at some future point, the developers must be drooling. I am surprised that the land isn’t already being speculated upon.

    It is almost a given that Hwy 23 will be pushed through at some point. I am just surprised that it stops where it does, and does not push all they way through to Dundas, and Hwy 1. Transit needs to be a big part of this, as 23 turns into Cedar, and Cedar will continue to grow as an alternative corridor for HWY 35. Light rail needs to continue to be thought about as well.

    This also adds more fuel to the fire for another river crossing south of town.

    I am still on the fence when it comes to the annexation of all this land. I need to read and ponder it more before forming an opinion.

    May 13, 2008
  4. William Siemers said:

    I think the comments which state that this annexation would contribute to a ‘global food crisis’ by taking ‘prime farmland’ out of production, are something of a red herring in this discussion.

    In the US there will an additional 5 million more acres of corn, soybeans, and wheat in production this year. There are, as I understand it, about 250 acres of crop land in the area considered for annexation. This is about 1/2 of 1/1000 of 1% of just the projected increase in US acres this year. The loss of this land in relation to total US food crop acreage (232 million acres) is 50 times as infinitesimal.

    I realize that any loss is too much for some people…since we’re talking about feeding people. Still, the USDA estimates an increase of about 50 million metric tons of food crop production worldwide this crop year. With ever increasing acreage in production and better yields, will the world miss the corn grown on these acres? I don’t think so…particularly since there is a good chance the corn produced on this land would not have been going to feed anyone anyway, but into the tank of someone’s SUV. If not that, then chances are, it would have been exported to China to feed pigs… and how ‘sustainable’ is that?

    So maybe we can leave the world food crisis out of this debate. Annexation of this land won’t affect the global food situation one way or another. I guess there is a symbolic value in ‘saving the farm’, but I’m not sure that symbolic gestures are what Northfield needs right now. In any case, the farmers involved, do not appear to want to be saved. They want to be annexed.

    May 13, 2008
  5. Stephanie Henriksen said:

    Thanks for posting the statute, Jane. When Paul Hanson was petitioning Northfield for annexation of 30 acres (?) of cornfield for the Target complex, the maximum bite a city could take of township land was 60 acres per time, as I recall. Looks like the Legislature has raised it to 120 acres.

    Even though the opportunity was there, the City had been hesitant to do a hostile annexation. When Rossman was mayor, things changed. He was determined on the Target development and very clear that a hostile annexation was inevitable (if we did not let the land go). Northfield came to Bridgewater Township for preliminary approval and the board did NOT give it to them, but passed a resolution statimg that the township would be open to receiving more information.

    City staff misrepresented what happened that night and claimed the township did give preliminary approval, despite objection from a small but vocal groups. (In actuality, the room was full of residents who either did not want the big box at all or did not want it at THAT SITE.) Some months later, when push came to shove, the City had to admit the error and come back and ask for preliminary approval again.

    May 13, 2008
  6. Stephanie Henriksen said:

    Tom Bonneville of Dayton Hudson remarked that there was only a short strip of green left between Lakeville and the Northfield exit which will be filled in soon enough. No point in fussing.

    Well, I think there is a point. Many groups are becoming more aware of the importance of locally grown food. Gloria Kiester shared some thoughts with me, particularly about the importance of the St. Olaf ag lands, which I will post shortly.

    Lest we forget, there was considerable fuss about moving the hospital out to St. Olaf land. Residents submitted a petition of 60 names and township supervisors took more time before voting. The WECAN group spent a lot of time and money on ads suggesting alternative sites, to no avail.

    Let’s spend adequate time on this one.

    May 13, 2008
  7. David,

    You ask in comment 100: “How come we didn’t hear this kind of opposition when Northfield built a big box hospital on the north side, and two big box schools on the south side? Didn’t they contribute to “urban sprawl”?”

    As Stephanie aptly points out, there WAS strong opposition to putting the hospital in the middle of a corn field. As for the two big box schools (Bridgewater and the Middle School), they are flanked on the east and west by residential development. There was no leapfrog development happening there. The locations might not have been the best possible, but they were nothing like this proposed annexation over three miles from downtown and one mile from the nearest residential development.

    I don’t see why planting the hospital a half mile from the nearest developed land justifies a further jump of more than a half mile to the next development. As momma always told me, “two wrongs don’t make a right.” I’ll say it again: I think we can do better than this, and remain true to the Comprehensive Plan, which is supposed to be the document guiding the community’s development. Leapfrog development is not in keeping with the Comprehensive Plan (either the 2001 Comp Plan or the revised, in-process Comp Plan that is having such a hard time being birthed). THAT is  the  “good community reason not to annex.”

    May 13, 2008
  8. David Ludescher said:

    Bruce: It’s only a leapfrog development if St. Olaf decides not to develop their land. However, It is not a leapfrog annexation.

    May 13, 2008
  9. William,
    In comment 104 you say “I think the comments which state that this annexation would contribute to a ‘global food crisis’ by taking ‘prime farmland’ out of production, are something of a red herring in this discussion.”

    From American Heritage Dictionary: red herring n. 1. A smoked herring having a reddish color. 2. Something that draws attention away from the central issue. 

    I assume you are referring to definition two. Your facile argument that a mere 250 acres of lost farmland is no big deal since an additional 5 million acres of land are being planted in corn, beans and wheat this year (acreage being taken out of the federal Conservation Reserve Program, all of which would be better left out of production since it tends to be highly erodible land, taken out of row-crop production for sound ecological reasons to begin with), and we’re filling our gas guzzlers with corn and feeding Chinese pigs anyway, leaves me wondering where to start. It’s akin to saying, “there’s no problem sending our raw sewage down the Cannon River because, hey, the Mississippi River is really big, the Gulf of Mexico is even bigger, and it doesn’t really matter what we do here.” I think we would do well to ponder Barry Commoner’s First Law of Ecology: Everything is Connected to Everything Else.

    I guess I’ll keep it simple: The world is clearly having a hard time feeding 6.7 billion people right now, many of them even at subsistence levels. By 2050, best conservative estimates are that 9.2 billion of us will be taxing the ecosystems upon which we all depend. It seems to me that we have a moral obligation to protect as much prime farmland as possible. I hope we will be able to feed ourselves here in the Northfield area, via an increasingly-local food production and distribution system, for the long term. I hope there will not be mass hunger and starvation problems in Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean in the future. I am confident that the world will need every last acre of good farmland possible to feed anything like 9.2 billion people who want to eat anything like the way we Americans eat.

    For me, the central issue is whether the proposed annexation and likely development represents a sustainable development pattern or not. I don’t think it does. We’ve been paving over good farmland, bulldozing woodlands, and filling in wetlands with abandon in the U.S. for way too long already. I simply don’t believe what is being proposed is wise, sustainable development, especially when we have other local alternatives (albeit not quite so conveniently at hand). And, in answer to Anne Bretts questions back in comment #91 concerning what those alternatives might be, I don’t personally have the answers, but I find it hard to believe that the 530 acres in question are the ONLY possible answer to Northfield’s need for commercial/industrial development land.

    May 13, 2008
  10. William Siemers said:


    You seem to have adopted the ‘think globally, act locally’ mindset. Which was my point exactly. Put this land into a global perspective and act in the best interest of Northfield. Act in the interest of people who need jobs. Sustain them.

    Personally I don’t want to get on a moral high horse…but I will say the last thing we should be doing is encouraging the rest of the world to ‘eat the way we Americans eat’. Likewise I am not so confident on predicting the future, (remember the Population Bomb?)

    But let me put it another way… Northfielders could have a bigger impact on the world food crisis by giving up double cheeseburgers than by not annexing this land.

    May 13, 2008
  11. This issue seems to be degenerating into comparing world views and philosophies. To an outsider, unfamiliar to the particular subtle yet potent dynamics particular to Northfield, it would seem strange that an offer of a large tract of land to the City would provoke such consternation. The expected response would be ‘thank you very much’. So, what makes this a poisoned chalice?

    To the seasoned politician and bureaucrat, this would be a wonderful opportunity to convert a contentious issue into a win-win-win outcome for (1) the landowner, (2) those against annexation for fear of ‘bait and switch’ or in favor of ‘no-growth’, (3) those in favor of annexation for industrial and tax-base reasons only or even salivating at the prospect of housing and a mega-mall.

    Tell me why this land cannot be annexed and the agreement include all the necessary ‘wherefores’ and ‘shalls’ such that the land after annexation cannot be developed for a specified period of time (eg 10 years) for other than industrial or agricultural use (or even nothing at all) or say a good road to replace the current bad stretch of H19 from H35 to Northfield (ie very specified) and which is binding on all councils now and in the foreseeable future.

    Can this not be done? If not, why? I see only a great opportunity for a compromise.

    May 13, 2008
  12. kiffi summa said:

    having just come from the Planning Commission meeting where the annexation was discussion item on the agenda , there seem to be more and more reasons to NOT annex.

    One of the most compelling arguments for close scrutiny by the EDA was made by Mr. Lawrence, of berry and asparagus fame. He spoke of the hydrology of the area, the elevation of ponds actually being above that of the roads in some instances, the immense cost of dealing with that model, and the disastrous results for the aquifer IF drainage is achieved. I hope the EDA was listening very closely. It does not sound like an easy sell to potential developers. Any potential business would be doing a lot of due diligence, and cost benefit analysis, and assuming Mr. Lawrence is accurate, and I do, this is a huge drawback , costwise.

    Quite a few G’vale residents spoke; they had not known of the PC’s Public Hearing. PC Chair, Greg Colby, gave a truly wonderful “good neighbor” rationale for letting these residents speak outside of the Public Hearing time.

    I cannot understand the position taken by staff. I would think their professional reputations would rest on getting this right; there seems to be way too much weight on moving it to conclusion, rather than using their expertise to expose and explain all the possible ramifications. Don’t we have professional staff to advise? or is their role to facilitate?

    This discussion does involve competing world views; it can’t be separated from those aspects of how we proceed for the future. This needs to be a careful and informed decision; it is a crucial decision. This one has to be done as rightly as can be, considering what the most informed proponents of future land use would advise. It cannot just be a quest for some industrial/business park land … if it is only that, I’m afraid we’re going to get it wrong … And lose something precious in the process.

    May 14, 2008
  13. Angel Dobrow said:

    I agree with the “cautionaries” (rhymes with canaries, as in the mines…); although the collective WE does not own the land in question, that same WE contributes to the quality of life called Northfield.

    There are many options to the looming world crisis of climate change and rampant growth and unsustainable lifestyle choices; and obviously those with the wherewithal to engage in this particular “public” discussion have opted NOT to stockpile canned goods on the back-40. Therefore, I believe all opinions are worth consideration. What we seem to have here, though, is a lack of process by which to explore these varying opinions. Confidence in the city government is pretty low, I (myself) have to look hard for a leadership voice that I can support in this fray.

    I propose we gather local leaders from all stripes and institute two things: one, a plan to finalize the comprehensive plan so neither pro-business growth-ers nor “radical isolationists” subvert the process and we end up with a pool of pissed-off residents; and two, a town-hall-type citizen input mechanism to assist the city government in the implementation of OUR (see idea one) plans.

    I also, once again, disagree with the rush. Democracy takes time.

    Peace–Angel Dobrow

    May 14, 2008
  14. Griff Wigley said:

    Sounds like the fit hit the shan at last night’s Planning Commission meeting, according to the article in today’s Nfld News:

    A clearly flummoxed O’Connell acknowledged that he didn’t have Griffith’s e-mail, didn’t have a copy of the draft comprehensive plan and wasn’t prepared to discuss Griffith’s concerns. And that bugged Griffith, even after commission member Tracy Davis pointed out that Griffith’s questions regarding the draft plan seemed to be separate from the annexation request.

    I’m looking forward to hearing from Ross and Tracy on this! 

    May 14, 2008
  15. David Ludescher said:

    Griff: I happened to get there for this discussion. Griffith wanted to address the Comprehensive Plan, which will be discussed next week. Ron’s concern was how this annexation would fit into the new Comp Plan. Brian’s response was that we have to deal with the 2001 Comp Plan because that is the official Comp Plan.

    May 14, 2008
  16. Tracy Davis said:

    Ross wasn’t at the meeting last night. Obviously there was a lot going on, because the issue strikes a nerve with many people. I was glad to hear from the Greenvale residents who spoke and I agree that Chair Greg Colby handled the process thing very well, both allowing public comments though last night was not a public hearing, and respecting the need to keep the meeting moving along so that business items could be dealt with.

    One of my concerns throughout the annexation discussion, last night and previously and online, is the fact that that there are several related BUT SEPARATE issues to be addressed, and lumping them all into one big pool only serves to muddy the waters.

    For example, we heard a lot from Greenvale residents about their concerns surrounding Dakota County’s plans to re-route and/or enlarge Cedar Avenue through Greenvale township. These concerns are serious and legitimate, but that is not relevant to the decision of whether or not to annex. Dakota County is going to do what it chooses with Cedar Avenue, whether or not this annexation takes place (the planning is based on long-term forecasting of traffic and population growth and is not directly connected to whether or not there’s an industrial park in the northwest quadrant of Northfield). In addition, Dakota County’s plan regarding Cedar Ave/Co. Rd 23 through Greenvale is one in which Northfield has no jurisdiction or authority, and very minimal (if any) influence.

    Another example of issues which I tried to separate was brought up in the Northfield News article. At the request of Commissioner Ron Griffith, the PC added an agenda item last night: Staff report regarding discussion/teleconference with ACP (the consultants on the new Comp Plan and Land Development Regulations). This was to follow up on an email Griffith sent to staff a week or so ago in which questions for staff/ACP specifically regarding the Land Use chapter in the Comp Plan were raised; it would have been helpful to have some clarification on those issues prior to the annexation discussion.

    My oversimplified characterization of what happened goes like this (and this is not by any means verbatim, just my summary):

    Griffith: What about the answers to those land use questions?

    O’Connell: They weren’t included in the conversation with ACP.

    Griffith: Well, the staff report answering some of the last meeting’s questions with regard to annexation confirmed that the landowners are agreeing to be bound by the new Comp Plan in terms of the land use if annexed. But there’s a big hole in the Plan in that there is no classification or language to address this prospective industrial land.

    O’Connell:We have to base the annexation request on the existing plan and regulations. By the time the new plan is adopted it will have the necessary language, but it’s not done yet.

    The exchange sounded a lot testier in person, because of the personalities of O’Connell and Griffith, but I took it as just a hammering out of process, with Ron Griffith doing an excellent job of pointing out work that still needs to be done lest it somehow fall through the cracks.

    I agree with Ron that it would certainly make things easier and more streamlined if we had better language in the new Comp Plan to address this situation; otherwise, it could seem that we are being asked to make a very large, very critical decision (one which we may not see again in Northfield for 50 years or more) without having adequate controls in place. If asked, “Should we annex 500 acres (335 buildable) for an industrial park?”, that’s one thing, and it’s complicated enough. However, it feels more like we’re being asked, “Should we annex 500 acres (335 buildable) into Northfield, with the implication of infrastructure and other associated costs, without procedural means to ensure that the land is used for the currently stated intent?”

    The decision to push this annexation request in advance of the adoption of the new Comp Plan makes it more likely that there will be opposition from some quarters which might not exist otherwise. I think that’s unfortunate. But, we have to deal with what is. So, I think it’s best to try to untangle those issues as much as possible.

    May 14, 2008
  17. Stephanie Henriksen said:

    As far as I’m concerned, Griffith was the hero of the evening. Dan Olson went over questions left unanswered from the public hearing April 29. On the first one, he said staff made a clerical error in not including the City Council motion of July 7 that property owners would sign an agreement to abide by the Comp Plan in developing the business park. He said Larry Larson (representing landowners) had agreed to this.

    It was assumed there would be provisions of the new Comp Plan that would guide the development of the business park. Griffith had done his homework, however, and found no provisions applicable. He had been relaying material to staff so they could run it by someone called Jamie of ACP in an upcoming phone conference.

    O’Connell said the subject of annexation had not come up with Jamie, that the discussion was on the Comp Plan only. He and Griffith were going and round on this until Tracy interjected in defense of staff, which I thought unfortunate. She did say she was not up to speed, having been out of town.

    I hope Griffith and other members will recommend against annexation until the draft Comp Plan is complete enough to show that it will help guide development of the 530 acres. If they go ahead now, the City would, in Ron’s words, be stepping out into Never-Never-Land.

    Testimony from the six township residents was superb, especially Lorence Berry Farm.

    May 14, 2008
  18. Stephanie Henriksen said:

    Sorry, Tracy, you and I were writing our renditions of what happened last night simultaneously and I posted mine without seeing yours.

    One thing I would disagree with is the idea that the road issue is separate from the annexation and business park. You need to read the MNDOT letter of April 28, warning against going ahead with this annexation without sufficient preplanning and input from them. This was featured in some detail in last Saturday’s Northfield News, page 3 or so. The paper had not provided the City response to MNDOT by the time of printing. Maybe you can provide that for us here.

    May 14, 2008
  19. Tracy Davis said:

    Stephanie – I have the letter, do you mean post the City response (if there’s been one yet)?

    May 14, 2008
  20. Tracy Davis said:

    I have a response from City Engineer Katy Gehler-Hess dated May 6, in response to the April 28 MNDot letter. Will try to scan both and post later.

    May 14, 2008
  21. kiffi summa said:

    What a mess!
    MNDOT and the road…
    Greenvale supervisors and their residents not being in “synch”…
    Mr. Lorence’s astounding hydrology cautions…
    Why even consider paving over good Ag land …
    60 day rules and extensions …
    Comp plan not done… and won’t be …
    Council says development must adhere to new comp plan; Brian O’Connell says this is under the current comp plan and that’s all that matters …
    What is the EDA thinking if the land’s hydrology is not suitable for large buildings … Remember the sinking hospital …
    Plan Commissioner says NO provision in the new Comp Plan’s land use Chapter to deal with this…

    “Threats” to take the whole thing to Dundas … well, it sounds like something you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy … and I LIKE Dundas!

    May 14, 2008
  22. David Ludescher said:

    It was odd that the Planning Commission took testimony from Greenvale Township residents. Apparently, the residents are not happy about how the Township Board did not oppose the annexation.

    In fairness, the Township Board did not say that they were in favor of the annexation. They appeared to be resigned to the fact that the City does not need the Township’s approval to proceed forward.

    Regarding Griffith’s questions, his questions were directed at trying to confuse the annexation and the development questions. It was pure political theatre without any substance. At least both he and O’Connell knew it, even if the audience didn’t.

    Interestingly, the most compelling arguments to date against annexation came from the Greenvale Township residents. Rather than ponticating about bobo idealism like previous anti-annexation speakers and Commissioners, the Greenvale residents talked about the negative effects upon them, their land, and the difficulties of establishing an industrial park in this area.

    Northfield would be well-advised to consult with the Langers, Kluvers, Laurences, and others after annexation. These folks know that land. While they have their personal interests at stake, they could also stop Northfield from making unwise decisions.

    May 14, 2008
  23. “It was odd that the Planning Commission took testimony from Greenvale Township residents.” Odd in what way, David? Odd that the Commissioners don’t just roll over and take their orders passively from the local Good Old Boy network?

    Please forgive me for pontificating once again, but it seems a good idea to me to take testimony from the people most directly affected by the proposed annexation. Gee, they even seem to agree with some of the self-interested liberal bobos in Northfield…

    May 14, 2008
  24. David Ludescher said:

    Bruce: It was odd for two reasons: first, it wasn’t a public hearing, so taking testimony was odd; second, they aren’t represented by Northfield; they are represented by the Greenvale Township supervisors.

    Second, that these residents agree with the bobos is only happenstance. The residents’ concerns are personal and pragmatic. The bobos concerns are global and idealistic.

    By the way, at least in this case, the bobos are conservatives, not liberals. Liberal comes from the Latin liber meaning to free. A liberal bobo would say that people should be free to choose the lifestyle they want to live.

    May 14, 2008
  25. Jane Moline said:

    Kiffi: Thank you for liking Dundas–I like it too! I think Dundas would be pleased to expand their industrial park.

    I also think it is in the best interest of everyone involved–Greenvale and Bridgewater Township, Northfield and Dundas cities, to find the best location for an industrial park as quickly as possible to attract and keep business in this area.

    Bruce, when you criticize this annexation for leap-frogging (it is not–the land is right next to existing city limits) while praising agri-belts like Portland has, you are arguing against yourself. The only way for Northfield to preserve open space is to annex it first–and if you are going to put a value on open space, you will have open space between developments–which some might call sprawl, although we know that clustering can minimize sprawl.

    I think the timeline is running on annexation, so the city is under a required response (is it 60 days?) when they must decide–the state statute puts this time line in, not the city trying to rush it–and the city is in a tough spot–if they decide against annexation they cannot economically turn around and annex when it is convenient. Reluctant landowners make it too expensive. Forced annexation can be considered a “taking” by the city.

    So, if they turn it down they will be critisized for failing to secure land for future industrial growth–in effect harming all of the citizens if business owners (continue) to look elsewhere for available land.

    May 14, 2008
  26. Patrick Enders said:

    David L,
    Enough with the “Bobos” already. Please. It’s tired, and insulting.

    May 14, 2008
  27. Ann Occhiato said:

    As one of the Greenvale residents who spoke at the PC meeting Tuesday I want to thank Chair Colby again for allowing more Greenvale residents to have a voice.

    I had hoped to connect the dots for the commission that the annexation and the road are not separate issues. There seem to be a few voices calling for annexation without planning it for development but the main reason for annexation (that has been stated emphatically) is an intent to use the land for development. Because of this, the road and annexation are the same. You will not get one without the other…if you develop that land we WILL get an expanded and realigned Cedar Ave corridor through Greenvale and it WILL destroy existing family farms and it WILL forever change the character of Greenvale. If the city wanted to annex the land for green space and create a park that would be a different scenario. Unfortunately, that does not seem to be the case.

    This annexation is a disaster for Greenvale township and Northfield by extension. Purposely creating a situation where an undisrupted North/South corridor will be built connecting Northfield with suburban sprawl to the north is a mistake and will eventually destroy the small town character and reputation Northfield currently enjoys. Dakota County Commissioner Joe Harris has stated twice in the last month that the road study was conducted because of Northfield’s wishes to develop in the Northwest quandrant. He stated publicly at our last township meeting that if there is no development there will be no road. I don’t see how you could possibly consider the two issues separately. To do so would be doing a great disservice to ALL of Northfield and Greenvale.

    Further, no one seems to care very much that Greenvale residents have voiced their opposition to this. Yes, it is the law that these landowners can offer up their land without our legal approval (which is the only reason our supervisors signed a letter stating they would not oppose it) and there seems to be quite a lot of interest on this blog in the “legal-ese” of this decision, but I argue that if the law was the most ethical standard available to us we may very well still be under Jim Crowe! We all know that the laws don’t always serve the best public interest. Three landowners are overriding the wishes of their community and are putting their own personal economic interests above the best interests of the vast majority of Greenvale residents. Three landowners will get a premium for their land while my property values will go down, my neighbor’s family farm will be destroyed, the farm to the north of my property will be destroyed, farms further south on Cedar will be destroyed and every single property abutting the expanded Cedar Ave corridor will see decreased property values. Not to mention that it will only be a matter of time before more of Greenvale will be moved away from agriculture if this road is built. Is this a situation Northfield wants to support?

    It would be so much easier if this annexation decision was a nice, tidy situation about creating more jobs and tax revenue for Northfield. But, the fact is that it is not. This decision will impact Northfield forever and the Planning Commission owes it to us to look at ALL of the consequences carefully. The roadways must be a factor in this decision.

    May 15, 2008
  28. kiffi summa said:

    Re:Anne O’s comment , May 15, 7:24 AM…
    Read and think … Well, those derogatorily termed”bobos” are exhibiting that they have already thought a lot… But those who do not question the outcomes of this annexation IMHO need to think more about the future results , over the many years it would take this questionable biz park to develop. Go back and look at what Joe Harris (the Dak Cnty. Comm.) is reported to have said.

    This is not just a way to satisfy a “need” for Northfield. If the EDA is doing their job they will look further, much further, at the future impacts of this project they want so badly. First of all, the question of how buildable this land is, and at What Cost, must be a discussion the EDA enters into.

    And, it is impossible , in my mind, to have Mr. O’Connell be the senior staff advisor to both the Boards that are dealing with this. The pertinent questions have not been raised except by the “troublesome three” and the EDA’s “troublesome one”.

    Why are we so afraid of an elucidating transparency in this town? Why can’t we use the dynamics of this citizenry to explore larger issues … BIG DEALS … the way the Lashbrook park/archery problem was dealt with. Why are people always denigrated when they come out with an opposing POV to be considered? Why as soon as serious questions are raised do we develop a denigrating nickname for those asking the question, instead of answering the question, putting it to rest…

    This ” modus operandi” has caused so much trouble in Northfield, including the current city hall MESS … if we’re so proud of being a “small town”, why can’t we deal respectively with our neighbor’s points of view?

    May 15, 2008
  29. William Siemers said:

    Regarding ‘paving over’ the farmland under consideration in the annexation:

    The global food crisis argument is disingenuous. A bright red herring.

    The ‘eat locally’ argument is not as pat as some would have us believe. It currently does not make economic sense for average consumers. A quick comparison of prices at the farmers market to the prices at Cub will bring that into focus. And according to Environmental Science and Technology, April 16, 2008, “The benefits of eating locally grown food may not extend to curbing global warming, according to a comprehensive study of greenhouse gas emissions from U.S. food.”

    I agree that it is nice to know something about who grows our food. And in some cases locally grown food does taste incrementally better. But taking this particular land out of production will not prevent either of those choices. And in any case, these are life-style decisions; they certainly do not constitute moral imperatives.

    Regarding the hydrology concern: If the land can’t be developed wouldn’t that solve the problem for the opponents of annexation?

    I think this controversy is basically between those who value esthetics and life style versus those who value development. There are reasonable concerns on both sides. I would rather look at countryside than at another industrial area as I approach Northfield. I’m sure the nearby Greenvale and Northfield residents who live nearby would much rather look out at rolling farm land than an industrial park. The Greenvale residents have a right to be concerned about threats to their life style. Everyone knows that these concerns are nothing new. I think that, within reason, they need to be addressed. But the state, for good reasons, has come down solidly on the side of municipalities that want to annex neighboring township lands, even in the case of unfriendly annexation.

    This is an opportunity for a friendly annexation. How often does that happen? If the chance slips away, I think we will regret it.

    May 15, 2008
  30. William Siemers said:

    Ann O.

    I admire your passion about this issue. I would like to know why the farms you mentioned will be destroyed by the development of the annexed land and why all these property values will decline?

    I understand the road, that you are sure will be built, will require the ‘taking’ of some farm land. And that some farms will be reduced in size or ‘destroyed’ by that. But aren’t farm land prices actually increasing right now? If this is viable land won’t the compensation be at market rates? Also, I see plenty of productive farm land adjacent to the interstate. Is that land worth less than equivilant land that is a few miles away? I also see farm fields right next to, or in the middle of, residential and commercial development on Cedar in Lakeville. Is that land worth less than farms two or three miles from the road?

    These are not rhetorical questions. I would really like to know.

    May 15, 2008
  31. Stephanie Henriksen said:

    It might help me to understand your point of view, Mr. Siemers, if I knew what you do for a living. What you mind sharing that?

    May 15, 2008
  32. Tracy Davis said:

    I also appreciate Ann O’s comments, both here and at the PC meeting on Tuesday. As I’ve said before, I’m *generally* in favor of this annexation; I believe that it serves the best long-term interest of Northfield. I agree that certain types of DEVELOPMENT could be an unmitigated disaster.

    It’s not simplistic or disingenuous of me to say yet again that these two things – annexation and development – are separate issues. Mere annexation does not change land use; the land will still be owned by three farm families if the annexation takes place. I understand that it is less likely (though not impossible) that distasteful development would happen without this annexation. But it is not a given that one will lead to the other. In fact a case could be made that Northfield would be in a better position than Greenvale Township to ensure that a greenbelt is maintained in the northwest.

    The planning and study regarding Co. Rd. 23/Cedar began long before this annexation idea was a gleam in anyone’s eye; if you want to point a finger at anything, point it at the hospital and the Northfield Retirement Center. Not that it would be productive to do so. The road is going to be changed, and some people will not be happy; that’s a given, and that will happen even if the request for annexation is denied.

    Maybe at this time it would be more accurate to say that I’m leaning in favor of the annexation. But it’s very important to me that if this annexation takes place, it does so with all the appropriate development controls we can put on it, and I’m open hearing different points of view to be sure I’ve considered them all.

    May 15, 2008
  33. William Siemers said:

    Stephanie H.
    I’m not sure what my work has to do with this…but no problem…I am basically retired. The last 35 years I worked in the grain business and owned a coffee roasting business. 25 or so other jobs before that.

    May 15, 2008
  34. kiffi summa said:

    Tracy: Why do you think “Northfield would be in a better position to maintain a greenbelt than Greenvale Twp would be”?

    Why do you feel that if, as Ron G. says, the Land use Chapter of the New Comp Plan “is totally inadequate to deal with these needs” (sic) ?

    I would feel a lot better if one of the Plan commissioners would ask Mr. O’Connell about the conflicting issues of old/new compplan… the council has said that the owners of the land must say that any development would comply with the NEW plan; Mr. O’Connelll said most emphatically it is being done under the OLD plan.

    Sounds like a conflict to me …

    Will Mr. O’Connell tell the council that they cannot “deal” with the NEW plan, as it is happening under the OLD plan; he did not do that at the meeting last July when the council agreed to look at this under their specific limiting language that they attached to the motion.

    Too many conflicting “facts”…

    May 15, 2008
  35. William, In comment #129 you opine “I think this controversy is basically between those who value esthetics and life style versus those who value development.” I beg to differ. I think this controversy is between those who think development in a business-as-usual manner is fine, and those who think that Northfield should develop in a different way in the future. Business-as-usual has resulted in development patterns here and just about everywhere else in the U.S. that have led us into innumerable messes, from (yes) sprawl development and the resulting wasteful use of land to near-total dependence on the car (or SUV/minivan/pickup), and the ever-increasing vulnerability of our economy and society (nationally, including Northfield) to spiralling petroleum product prices and possible future petroleum supply disruptions (and dare I say might have just a tad to do with our democratizing Iraq by force).

    This is not just about the loss of 530 (or 440, or 335) acres of farm land in Greenvale Township. This is about sprawl development and continual loss of prime farmland every minute to development in the U.S. (see, for example, “2 Farm Acres Lost per Minute, Study Says“). (This has perhaps slowed down as a result of the housing market being in the doldrums, but it has been and remains a huge issue.) It’s about what Northfield values, and how we grow as a community. Just about every one of the community values embodied in the City Council-endorsed Land Use Principles would be compromised by the kind of development envisioned for the land included in this annexation request. Are the councilors bobos, or inattentive?  They did endorse these principles, and they are our elected representatives.

    While the actions of Northfield are inconsequential in the global sense, I do think we have a moral obligation to think globally and act locally (as much as you might care to deride such a principle).
    Yes, by all means let’s create decent jobs locally and develop a sustainable (economically, environmentally and socially) community. Let’s do it in a better way than this annexation offers.

     You may disagree totally with any and all of these conclusions. That is your right, and I don’t care to (and will not) debate all of these issues ad nauseum here on Locally Grown. I have a life to get on with.

    May 15, 2008
  36. Ann Occhiato said:


    Thank you, Bruce, for “getting it”. I have to say that most people involved in this post, and I dare say, the entire “process” are so mired in the minutia of council meetings, who said what, the in’s and out’s of plans and insider gossip that the big picture is being lost.

    Bruce explained it perfectly. This is about trying to do a little better than we’ve gotten in America up to this point as far as sustainability is concerned. We are entering an age when it will no longer be feasible to not consider the consequences to the landscape (and the vital nutrients it supplies) in our business development decisions. Many people don’t want to wake up to the fact that our resources are being rapidly depleted. And, while this tract of farmland is relatively small when you think in regional terms, this is happening EVERYWHERE EVERY DAY and farmland and open spaces are disappearing.

    Northfield can and should take the opportunity to be a leader in sustainable development instead of the same old tired model that is getting us more of what we’ve got: spoiled wetlands, contaminated water, disappearing green space and roads roads roads. Let’s embrace a 21st century model of development that supports the needs of everyone and doesn’t destroy green spaces, wetlands and viable farmland.

    In addition, my point about decreasing property values wasn’t about decreasing property values! It was about how this decision has tremendous ripple affects for many, many people other than these three landowners and their immediate neighbors, and that we must consider ALL of the consequences.

    May 16, 2008
  37. Anne Bretts said:

    I guess I wonder how the city can sustain a legal challenge to a refusal to annex based on promoting sprawl, since all the arguments for annexation are the same ones the city used to justify the hospital just a couple of years ago.
    Is ‘do as I say, not as I do’ a legal defense?

    May 16, 2008
  38. Tracy Davis said:

    Ann O: I agree with you that Bruce A. “gets it”, but that doesn’t mean that people who disagree with his or your conclusions on this particular annexation issue don’t. There may be different means of approaching shared goals, and a different assessment of what the priorities are. I’m trying to get away from the “oh my god we’re reducing ag land” aspect of this annexation request because there are plenty of other concerns that can be more directly tied to our existing plans and regulations (and thus, as Anne B. pointed out, more legally defensible if ever challenged). I believe it’s more constructive to the process to focus on those things.

    Kiffi, what I meant in my comment about Northfield being in a better position to maintain a greenbelt is simply that Northfield as a city has more regulatory tools available than a township does if the political will exists to do so. I’m just point that out, but I’m not holding my breath.

    May 16, 2008
  39. William Siemers said:

    Ann O…This annexation will permanently have wetlands and open space incorporated into it. And, for the time being, it will have crop land. I realize that is pretty much immaterial to you, as it seems that you are opposed to any development outside of existing boundaries, particularly in this neck of the woods. But that doesn’t change the fact that this will be a fairly ecologically diverse area…as least as far as industrial parks go.

    I agree with Britt, who mentioned in the Roder thread, ‘let’s just get this thing done’. Except for just a couple people in this LG thread, almost everyone has indicated that they could support the annexation if there can be control over potential development. With all the talent in this town, it seems that a letter of agreement (or comparable document) could be drafted that would stipulate the concerns regarding control, while not completely tying the hands of the owners regarding options for development. Maybe this would then allow the deal to get done within the time period allowed.

    May 16, 2008
  40. Stephanie Henriksen said:

    Let me be clear, I do NOT support a business park at this site. Covering over ag land of this quality so far off the beaten path is simply wrong. If a majority of the Planning Commission and Council want this ill-timed annexation, I would, at the very least, press for language in the Comp Plan and ordinances to guide it so no retail or residential is allowed in and environmental concerns are addressed.

    I did not support rezoning more than a thousand acres of ag land along I-35 from the Steer south to Cty 1 for highway commercial either. Commissioner Jim Brown was determined upon it, despite campaign promises to the contrary, so it was done. The study committee was not balanced–no farmer or rural resident along the route was included. There is no infrastructure out there and there are, to date, no developers I know of knocking on doors of landowners. Heath and Wolf creeks were named as potential sites for sewage plants.

    Wolf Creek, which runs through the back of my farm, is stinky enough. My husband tried to cross on the four-wheeler a few years ago and fell in. Came out smelling like sewer.

    May 16, 2008
  41. Stephanie Henriksen said:

    Townships are granted the right to their own planning and zoning in Minnesota, yet they are put at a disadvantage when it comes to annexation. Even at that, a township is not without recourse. Northfield cannot take more than 120 acres at one time (increased from 60 acres two years ago), unless Greenvale is agreeable to it. Greenvale can request a hearing where both parties present their cases. Given the opposition to this annexation from their residents, one wonders why they are not doing that.

    Christine Scotillo of Municipal Boundary Adjustment office can answer questions at 651-361-7910
    or check out the website

    May 24, 2008
  42. Stephanie Henriksen said:

    URGENT: Recommendation on this annexation is TONITE (May 27) at Planning Commission meeting 7 pm. Agenda just became available this morning on the website

    Unfortunately, there is an error in the pdf for packet materials which city staff are now correcting. I’m hoping Sandy can email me the resolutions staff has prepared, meanwhile.

    Going back to Ross Currier’s first entry on this discussion, the City’s Comprehensive Economic Development Plan says the City needs 120 acres, which happens to fit the number allowed in state law. I hope the Planning Commission will consider that number, as opposed to 530 acres, tonight.

    May 27, 2008
  43. Ann Occhiato said:

    Thank you to the Planning Commission for being the voice of reason at City Hall by voting against annexing 530 acres of Greenvale! More work needs to be done to ensure that even less than the now proposed 300+acres is annexed.

    The Planning Commission and everyone in general needs to know that huge inaccuracies and misconceptions are at play in how this annexation is proceeding. It states in the packet for the commission meeting last night that the Greenvale town board held a public meeting on May 20th to hear testimony from Greenvale township residents on the annexation and after that testimony decided to not revise its position. How this is stated is completely inaccurate and I dare say intensionally falsified. When concerned residents attended the regularly held monthly meeting at Greenvale town hall on May 20th and requested to make comments there was a discussion about the annexation. The general feeling of the residents I know that attended said they felt as if their comments were actually not welcomed or appreciated but allowed nonetheless. Under whose definition of “testimony” does this fit? Who has misconstrued what happened at that May 20th meeting? Was it the Greenvale town board who greatly mistated to city staff what took place at that meeting? Or was it city staff who twisted it to better align with their recommendation to annex? To state it the way it was in the packet makes it sound as if the Greenvale town board held a public meeting about the annexation in order to let Greenvale residents finally have a say, when in fact no such thing was done.

    Can we not have an open and public debate about the merits of this annexation deal? Why are events being misrepresented? Does the Greenvale Town Board or Land Vista or City Staff have something to hide? Why did John Fink tell a neighbor that he was told by Greenvale supervisors TWO YEARS AGO that the annexation wouldn’t be a problem when the letter from the supervisors is dated April 15, 2008 and the discussion of the annexation wasn’t brought up at a public meeting until late 2007? Doesn’t anyone find these things disturbing?

    May 28, 2008
  44. Griff Wigley said:

    The Nlfd News story on last night’s Planning Commission meeting is titled Board votes to annex a portion of 530 acres.

    Five hundred and thirty acres was a bite larger than the Planning Commission wanted to take. The commission Tuesday voted 6-1 to recommend the city council annex just two thirds of the request — 354 acres — west of the Northfield Hospital for a business park. If approved by the council, only the two eastern-most properties would be brought into the city limits. Ninety of the acres are owned by St. Olaf College; the remaining 254 belong to David Sorem.

    May 28, 2008
  45. kiffi summa said:

    I would very much like to hear some response to Anne O’s most recent questions .. #148.

    I think it is incumbent upon the City of Northfield , and the Greenvale supervisors to respond.

    May 28, 2008
  46. David Ludescher said:

    Ross or Tracy: There are actually 4 requests given there are four property owners. Was the vote 6-1 on each of the four properties?

    Also, was there a 6-1 vote to annex the St. Olaf land for business park use? I don’t think St. Olaf wants a business park on their land, do they?

    May 28, 2008
  47. victor summa said:

    David Ludescher asks:

    Ross or Tracy: There are actually 4 requests … there are four property owners. Was the vote 6-1 on each of the four properties?

    Also, was there a 6-1 vote to annex the St. Olaf land for business park use? I don’t think St. Olaf wants a business park on their land, do they?

    Am I reading another attack in that question?

    The vote was meant to limit the acres annexed.

    As to St. Olaf or the farmer’s goals for future development or changes in use, these were really not addressed in the Plan commission’s discussion or resolution. Indeed it would in many ways have been a discussion in futility, as the Council has already sanctioned the annexation discussion to go forward with no Concept Plan attached.

    There seems to be verbal commitment from the farmers and the Pl. C did invoke a strong letter of agreement be signed.

    I had hoped the Pl. C would take more time to sort out these questions as best they might … and to include in their recommendation to the Council, parameters that would specify these more precisely than the Pl. C. action taken, really did.

    They did include language to tie the NW territory development to the new Comp Plan, when it is finished and its associated land use regulations. One can only hope they (The Pl. C) will not tire before that task is complete.

    On property owners intentions:

    Clearly we have sense of what St. Olaf’s participation in this process is supportive of … and, what their plan for their 89 acres are. St.O has no immediate plan for development on those 89 acres.

    Obviously the best laid plans of mice and men …etc, can not predict today, what St.O will see as vital to their needs and those of the community’s, tomorrow.

    Interestingly enough, a few years back when the Hospital was in development phase, the college did have plans for the acreage at the NW corner of North Avenue and County 23/Cedar. Those plans centered around a classy “stone built” housing complex for St. O retired alums. This idea has moved off the College’s front burner… but is still as good a guess as any of what might appear there, someday.

    Unfortunately, short sighted Hospital plans did not allow for adequate water distribution to that complex, so the City, in the few years the Hospital has been up and running has found it necessary to mess-up the corner by building a less than “compatible stone” building that could have matched the College’s buildings, should the latter materialize.

    From my point of view, St.O’s retirement complex would have been (is still) quite good for Northfield … both from a land use as well as an aesthetic perspective.

    As for the

    “4 requests …. there are four property owners. Was the vote 6-1 on each of the four properties?”

    Whatever the meaning of the vote, the intent was clear, and if there’s a loose end in that process, it would be in Staff’s oversight, not that of the Pl C.

    But, all this may be moot, as a mater of fact, as Council may vote to overturn the Pl. C’s recommendation and allow the full 530 to come in.

    The EDA, when looking at the entire site requesting annexation, recognized the limited use of some 150 acres of environmentally sensitive land of the 530. (see Tracy in Comment # 136)

    Northfield would be in a better position than Greenvale Township to ensure that a greenbelt is maintained in the northwest.

    Reducing the 530 by 150 acres, that number plus another estimated 45 acres related to vital transportation corridor connections through the annexed land, the acres available for future light industrial development, is reduced to 335 acres, about where the Pl. C ended up. There’s little practical gain in their action … and arguably some tactical loss.

    While I am not scurrying around longing to annex every nook and cranny .. and I’d much prefer in-fill development of the vast variety of available land along the Hwy 3 corridor be pushed, as the preeminent development goal, for, as the recently departed ED staff person (C Coulomb-fiore) has said

    it is all a joke. They (Northfield) need more business to cover the taxes, but they cannot support the businesses they have.

    Which is in many ways is what Bruce A. and Ann O. and many Greenvalians as well as other concerned Northfielders have said about the annexation.

    One can only hope that the inclusion of these acres … 335 or 530 … or more, if you are to listen to some who look hungrily at Waterford and Bridgewater Townships, in the end, proves to be a sustainable move for the community.

    It’s like calling balls and strikes in a darkened ball park. Only the Chicago Cubs can survive and thrive without winning.

    In the case at hand, we may be talking about fuel and food.

    When is the Plan Commission going to lead a dialogue on the real future of Northfield.

    Was that what started last summer, in the Armory?

    Do the seven on the dais and their employed staff realize this?

    Does the Chamber of Commerce? Or does everyone see a blue sky on the other side of the fence — or is that greener grass?

    My suggestion, give the staff a vacation .. and plan like hell while they’re up at the lake.

    May 29, 2008
  48. Tracy Davis said:

    Dave – According to City staff, when I asked a similar question at Tuesday’s meeting, there were two annexation requests – one from Land Vista on behalf of property owners Sorem, Fink, and Lysne, and one from St. Olaf. I delayed a response to your question so that I could reference my meeting notes, but now I find that I’ve left them at my office. Will try to give more details tomorrow.

    May 29, 2008
  49. David Ludescher said:

    Tracy: If the Land Vista request is one request, then does the Planning Commission vote mean that it is recommending denial of Land Vista’s request? My understanding is that the City Council doesn’t have the authority to approve the request as passed by the Planning Commission. Doesn’t it have to give each request a yes or no?

    May 29, 2008

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