Herald JournalHerald Journal, Feb. 9, 2004

Victor Twp. approves annexation with HL

By Ryan Gueningsman

Close to 60 people attended the meeting, one board member abstained from the vote, and one motion failed, but in the end, the Victor Township board approved its orderly annexation agreement with the City of Howard Lake.

After several hours of discussion, and many questions from concerned residents of Victor Township, the board voted 2-0 last Monday at a special meeting to approve the agreement.

"I know annexation is not going to go away," said Chairman Burton Horsch before calling a vote.

When Horsch called the vote, board member Greg Bakeberg said that he was going to abstain from voting, because of the fact that he has land in the area that would be affected, and he "didn't want to go through what I did with the school," he said.

With Bakeberg abstaining, that left Horsch and board member Dave Hoover to make the vote.

Horsch introduced a motion to accept the annexation agreement as presented, and indicated that he would vote in favor of that motion.

Hoover also indicated he would vote to approve it, with the exception that there would not be leap-frog annexation of the Johnson farm. The motion, therefore, died of a lack of a second.

That motion would have made it impossible for the Johnson farm to be annexed unless the Frank farm was.

After further discussion and concerns from residents, Horsch again made the same motion to accept the agreement as is, with Hoover seconding.

The motion passed 2-0, with Bakeberg abstaining.

Opposing annexation

A large crowd was on hand at the meeting, expressing concerns on the annexation resolution.

Kent Houston, who lives in part of the annexation area, prepared a statement he read to the township board, representatives from the City of Howard Lake, and the public.

"We are all part of this small, close-knit community, and to remain this way, we must all be willing to respect each others' views and wishes, and work together to resolve the issues to the benefit of everyone," Houston said.

Houston's first point was that residents do not want to see development that is "significantly inconsistent with the environment that they currently reside in.

"They have chosen where they live for a reason . . . to live in a country environment, away from high-density housing," he said.

He also noted that the township leaders and city officials "should be supportive of their wishes, for that is the responsibility of elected officials to represent the desires of their constituents."

Another issue that Houston addressed was that Howard Lake's city officials "feel it is important to grow and expand to make Howard Lake an appealing and vibrant community."

"Here's how it all comes together," he said. "The city should be patient and wait to find a developer that is willing to put in the kind of development that is better suited to blend into the housing currently existing in the growth plan areas.

"Since development is supposedly so rampant, there should be many developers out there who would be happy to do what is more appropriate for the area," Houston said.

After reading his prepared statement, Houston turned towards the crowd and asked, "How many of you are in favor of development of the Johnson farm?"

No one in the room raised their hand.

"We're in the country here," one resident commented during the meeting, "and we want to stay that way."

The actual agreement

Victor Township attorney Michael Couri was on hand to read the document to concerned citizens, and field questions.

There are actually three types of annexation agreements. There is orderly annexation, which is what Howard Lake and Victor Township entered into.

"One city and town come to an agreement saying 'yes, this is an annexation process containing an amount of land that we agree should be annexed over a period of time, and here's the terms,'" Couri said.

The second type is a contested case, Couri explained. That is where a city and town have not been able to come to an agreement about annexation.

This process takes about a year to go through, and goes before an administrative law judge, "like a trial in court," Couri said. "There is one winner, and one loser, and it costs a whole bunch of money, and that is the way it goes ­ there is no in-between or middle ground."

The third type of annexation that can take place is annexation by ordinance, Couri said. "That is where the property owner who abuts the city wants to go in, he petitions the city to be annexed, and the city says 'yes we'll annex the property' and it is approved," he said.

This type can occur on property that is 60 acres or less, and it has to be abutting the city.

"It's a way a lot of annexations are done," Couri said. "It's not the preferred way, because things like street issues and assessments don't necessarily get addressed.

"We try to address those issues in an agreement, and this is by far the preferred way to go."

Couri went on to explain the actual agreement to people in attendance.

The land involved in the orderly annexation area includes parts of four township sections ­ 2, 4, 9, and 10.

Primarily, the annexation agreement gives the city options to pursue development mostly west and east of town.

Land from 72nd Avenue north to the Howard Lake city limits is in the affected area. Land from Keats Avenue going east towards Howard Lake is affected. Land west of Keats Avenue is not.

On the east side of Dutch Lake, a majority of that land is in the annexation agreement area, going from 70th Street north to 60th Street.

"All properties will be in the orderly annexation area. You will remain in the township unless and until you are annexed into the city," Couri said. "You will still come under the township tax rate, receive your road services, for the most part, from the township, and be governed by county building permit issues. You still vote here at town hall. If you're annexed ­ it switches. You're then into the city."

The Country Air addition south of 70th Street becomes a separate "neighborhood," Couri explained.

These neighborhoods can only be annexed if 51 percent of home owners want in.

"In essence, it's a neighborhood vote," Couri said. "If it's less than 51 percent, the entire neighborhood stays out."

The plan is a 10-year agreement, Couri said. Under the current state of the law, the city cannot annex property by ordinance unless it either owns it, surrounds it completely, or the property abuts and the owner petitions.

"By law, we (the township) cannot require that they zone a piece of land a certain way.

"In the township, the county governs, in the city, the city governs," he said. Once a concept plan is given to the city in the orderly annexation area, the town board will be informed, but does not have veto power of the plan.

"The way development occurs is not necessarily abutting the city all the time," he said. "It's ideal when it occurs that way, from a planning perspective, you want the city to grow out with no pockets of township in between."

Road maintenance

"We're anticipating one piece of property being annexed in first, and that is the Johnson farm, located at Keats Avenue and 70th Street," Couri said.

First, if the city develops property on what is a township road, the city has to pave that road back to a city street, county highway, or state highway, Couri said.

On the maintenance of roads, generally the township will keep control and maintenance of the gravel roads. The city will control maintenance of the paved roads, Couri said.

For the use of township roads, Couri commented that what he does not want is construction traffic and gravel trucks traveling on township roads.

The city will require in its contract with the builder to take paved roads.

"We don't want them on the gravel roads," he said. "They'll beat it up too much."

Couri said he is expecting the Johnson farm to be one of the first annexed and developed. If that is the case, a paved road will need to be made to where homes will be built.

"When that property develops, Jellison will probably be paved," he said.

The township will maintain the cost for 70th Street until it has to become paved because of development. Keats Avenue will be maintained the same way.

The end result

The Howard Lake City Council approved the annexation agreement with Victor Township at its council meeting Tuesday night.

"Personally, I want to compliment the (township) board," said Howard Lake Mayor Gerry Smith, who attended last Monday's township board meeting. "It's been a pleasure to work with them. It has been a lot of give and take. You can't give everything, and you can't get everything."

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