Does the Waterford Township annexation agreement need to be revised?

Waterford Community Center Since the northwest annexation issue now moves from the Northfield Planning Commission to the City Council, it seems like there should be more discussion of the 1980 Waterford Township annexation agreement.

Some background:

May 9 Nfld News: Just out of reach: Waterford Township.

A 1980 annexation agreement with Waterford, the smallest of the four townships surrounding Northfield, doesn’t allow annexation without the township board of supervisors’ approval. In 28 years, Waterford has agreed to one annexation: 20 acres off Sheldahl Road, which allows Sheldahl, now Multek, to relocate. A three-page typewritten agreement not only says the city can’t annex Waterford property without its approval, but must forever pay the township, north of the city just across the Dakota County line on Hwy. 3, for taxes lost in the annexation.

May 13 Nfld News editorial: Waterford accord needs another look.

As Northfield looks to expand its tax base and as discussions of a new business park continue, the city needs to examine all its annexation agreements to see whether they’re still wise to continue or if they should be renegotiated. The city should start with Waterford.

Letters to the editor in the May 17 Nfld News from Mary Ellen Frame and Liz Messner, Waterford Township Supervisor.

Letter to the editor in the May 21 Nfld News from Erin Johnson, Waterford Township Clerk.


  1. Stephanie Henriksen said:

    To get a full picture, I think we need to go back to look at earlier annexations of Waterford land by Northfield (pre-1980), such as the siting of the Northfield Wastewater Treatment Plant. I had expected that to come out in the Northfield News, but not so far. Anyone want to check into this?

    June 2, 2008
  2. Patrick Enders said:

    Unfortunately, the substance of Northfield’s disagreement with Waterford has been lost in arguments about the process (see the “…bite City of Northfield in the ass” thread).

    It seems to me that the Waterford Township annexation agreement is a deeply flawed plan, which does not seem to comply with the spirit of MN annexation law. With a little digging, I found the following:

    “Under Minnesota Statute 414.033, cities may annex land simply by passing an ordinance declaring that specific parcels of land are now part of the city, so long as certain conditions are met. The ordinance process may be initiated either by the city or by petition of property owners. This is the most common form of annexation.”

    From: (page 2). The PDF subsequently enumerates the required conditions.

    By contrast, the Northfield-Waterford annexation agreement is part of an alternative to “annexation by ordinance,” which is referred to as “orderly annexation” in the same reference:

    “Orderly annexation lets the city and township address annexation more cooperatively and give more thought to the needs of the broader area. It encourages joint planning for the area where annexations are expected and helps in timing annexations to coincide with new development and the need for city services. The process is intended to avoid piecemeal annexations while giving local governments more time to prepare for future annexations and to direct growth in a more orderly fashion.”
    (same reference, page 3.)

    From a perusal of this document, it seems that the purpose of annexation agreements should be to facilitate orderly annexation – not to stop it, as the Waterford agreement has done.

    (p.s. for those keeping score: Joey didn’t wake up after all.)

    January 15, 2010
  3. Stephanie Henriksen said:

    (Patrick,you moved this discussion to this site before I could get my reply to Jane posted. So here it is again.)

    Jane, your portrayal of Waterford as the “big greedy” I find appalling. Waterford Township has already been reduced to a fragment of what it once was by land grabs by Northfield, including the waste treatment plant. That was about 1971. When they were hesitant to release 20 acres to Northfield for Sheldahl in 1980 without getting something in return, who could blame them?

    It was a good compromise, supported by the State Legislature. Certainly Mayor Arnie Nelson thought so at the time. The first tax payment Waterford got was very small. Now it’s up to something over $3000/yr as I understand it. Northfield gets the larger tax share on it by far and should be satisfied.

    All Dakota Cty townships have their own zoning, coordinated with the County. Bridgewater is first to do p&z in Rice County. We, too, are tired of bad decisions by the County. We exercised our right to local control provided by state law.

    We did not have our own zoning when the annexation agreement w/Dundas was passed and this led to some confusion when it came to issuing permits on property on borders of Dundas (Annexation Reserve District), but this has been worked out.

    I am pleased and thankful that my township supervisors chose to do their zoning, with the support of the large majority of our residents.

    January 15, 2010
  4. Stephanie Henriksen said:

    Citing the statute is always helpful. However, the Waterford agreement w/Nfld (1981) predates that and I believe the terms of it are grandfathered in.

    Waterford was regarded by the State Legislature as a special case. Without the terms of this agreement, Waterford Township would likely be long gone.

    Size of a township is generally 6 miles square. As I said in my comment (#3), Waterford is only a fragment of what it once was. Google Waterford Township and see what you find.

    January 16, 2010
  5. Patrick Enders said:

    Thanks for taking an interest in the law on this. Please take the following comment simply as my effort to understand the law, and not a comment on Waterford in particular. I’m a Northfielder, and I’m approaching this topic from in an attempt to answer “what does the law/state support?” and what should Northfield do?”

    In my further readings on the subject, my impression is that the state sees no compelling interest in preserving the existence of any unincorporated township. Rather, if a township wishes to preserve itself as an independent entity, it should consider incorporation. (Unfortunately, that path is also fraught with challenges.)


    “To be considered for incorporation, the Township must meet the necessary factors to be
    incorporated into a City. At a minimum the Township will need to provide evidence to
    the ALJ that for several years the Township has successfully handled planning and
    zoning activities within the Township. Further, the Township would need to have a plan
    for the provision of municipal services such as sanitary sewer and municipal water.

    “Finally, remember that attempting to incorporate as a city is not a sure means of avoiding
    the loss of township land through annexation…. In Forest Lake, the entire township was ordered annexed into the city rather
    than being incorporated as a new separate city. Part of the rationale for this outcome was
    that in order to incorporate, the township must argue that it is or is about to become urban
    or suburban in nature, which is the same basic criteria to trigger an annexation.

    “Combined with the current preference by the State to encourage consolidations and thus fewer local
    units of government instead of more, the chances of a township successfully
    incorporating as a new city are pretty slim and an annexation of the whole into the
    existing city is likely.”

    January 16, 2010
  6. Tracy Davis said:

    In Councillor Betsey Buckheit’s blog post today, she wrote,

    I believe it is long past time that this agreement be reviewed as part of good governance – do we know what’s in our agreements, are they still appropriate and what changes should we be making? . . . I would like a new annexation agreement with Waterford which looks to the future rather than clinging to the past. We should sit down and reach an agreement about our shared interests in how our edge develops (or doesn’t develop). We need Waterford as a willing negotiator, not a roadblock, in this matter.

    January 16, 2010
  7. Jane Moline said:

    Sorry to offend you, Stephanie, but I agree with Patrick–there is no overriding desire under state law to preserve townships. The municipality gets precedence over the township. This helps regulate development. The entire process of orderly annexation will result in the shrinking of a township–and it is intended by state statute to do so.

    At the time of the Waterford agreement, the city of Northfield believed itself in a desparate situation where it (probably wrongly) believed that it had no alternative but to agree to all of Waterford’s demands. State law does not anticipate that townships should have the right to “land lock” a city. That is exactly what Waterford did, though, by going for both taxes into perpetuity AND banning Northfield from doing what municipalities are suppose to do–annex for growth as needed.

    I believe Waterford thought themselves very clever in making the agreement so beneficial to the township–but they should have anticipated that they could not block development forever and ever. Basically, enforcing such an agreement on current and future city of Northfield citizens is so obviously unfair–akin to a father indenturing his son into servitude for 70 years.

    The only way for Waterford to assert any authority would be to incorporate so it would be a municipality–and then Northfield would have no right of annexation.

    I think Waterford should enter into a reasonable annexation agreement through renegotiation with Northfield rather than wait for the courts to meet out an agreement that no one will like.

    January 16, 2010
  8. […] city staff and Council members have failed at transparency (see the News and Locally Grown and more Locally Grown) let’s see what we could have done […]

    January 16, 2010
  9. Patrick Enders said:

    Waterford’s legal opinion released:

    Any attempt by the city of Northfield to halt tax reimbursement payments to Waterford Township would violate Minnesota law, according to an opinion issued Tuesday by the township attorney.

    February 17, 2010
  10. Stephanie Henriksen said:

    How did you happen to find this NNews item so quickly? I wonder if this is the same Henke report we will see in the Saturday paper. Given the opinion of the Waterford attorney, I wonder if the resolution to cease tax payment to Waterford will be taken off the Council agenda for March 2.

    Both Bridgewater and Waterford townships had their own township meetings last Tuesday night, so were unable to attend the Council meeting and work session. Reading the LWV observor report today gives some of the flavor of the annexation lesson Atty Hood delivered in the work session that night.

    As a township resident and an advocate of local control, I am really appalled at what I read there.

    February 18, 2010
  11. kiffi summa said:

    Stephanie: at a previous council meeting, Attny. Hood told the council that they should discontinue payment to Waterford because since the current statute says payments are limited to 8 years, and NF has been reimbursing WF for about thirty years , NF might be establishing a precedent by continuing to pay!.

    I found this to be very poor reasoning; if NF has already paid 22 years longer than they needed to,by the current statute, then a precedent has certainly already been established; thereby putting NF in the position of establishing their recognition of the ‘contract’ with WF.

    At any rate, regardless of what point of view might be held about the agreement, it does not behoove NF to NOT work in concert with its township neighbors.

    P.S. State office of Policy Analysis issued a ruling on Open meeting law just 2 months ago, 12, 2009.
    Clearly there are many violations here, as well as elsewhere in the state, would be the understanding after reading that analysis and its conclusions. And that is the ruling for the State.

    February 18, 2010

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