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Township planning issue heats up in Wright County

January 21, 2008

By Ivan Raconteur
Staff Writer

Both the county and Corinna Township asserted interest in cooperation, but the atmosphere in the Wright County boardroom Tuesday morning left the impression that animosity just below the surface could ignite at any time.

The issue leading up to the discussion stemmed from the township’s announcement that it plans to take over planning and zoning authority within the township.

Corinna Township notified the county of its intention nearly a year ago, but the path toward transition has been a rocky one.

During Tuesday’s meeting, both sides accused the other of failing to provide information when requested.

There has been correspondence between the two entities over a period of several months.

The county was clearly offended by remarks made by Township Planner Charles Marohn of the Community Growth Institute during a Jan. 9 Wright County township officers meeting.

“Despite the claim that they want to work together in the spirit of cooperation, we were subjected to a degrading assault on the county board and its staff. If that is good faith and cooperation, we don’t need any more of that,” Wright County Zoning Administrator Tom Salkowski said.

Board Member Jack Russek was also obviously upset by the remarks, which he described as “totally unfair.”

Russek said the county has always had the intention of working with the township, but noted, “it is difficult when you have someone with that kind of animosity.”

He added that the county is not opposed to the township doing its own planning, but made it clear that it must be compatible with the county system.

Russek seemed frustrated by the fact that the situation has reached this point.

“We can get this accomplished in two hours between the county board and the township supervisors. All we need is proof that they are going to meet the state statute,” Russek said.

Peter Tiede, the attorney representing the township, said Russek’s suggestion “sounds like a great idea,” and said he would recommend it to the township.

“I don’t think there is any debate that the township has the authority to do its own planning,” Tiede said.

“These battles don’t serve anyone’s purposes,” he added. He also said that the township has felt it is getting resistance from the county.

Tiede said the township intends to do its own planning, and that this can be a cooperative or less-cooperative process, and less-cooperative will be much more expensive.

Commissioner Pat Sawatzke asked Tiede if he has had a chance to review correspondence between the county and the township, and if he could explain why requests that the county has made for public information from the township have not received responses.

Tiede indicated that he was not aware of this situation, and said the county has not provided information that was requested by the township.

“You are referring to things that would take thousands of man-hours to retrieve. We are asking for public information that should be readily available,” Sawatzke replied.

John Baker, the attorney representing the county in this matter, responded to some of the comments that were made during the meeting.

“The problem with township zoning is capability and accountability,” Baker said.

Baker was retained by Wright County last October to help the county prepare for possible pending litigation with the township.

Baker is an attorney and partner with Green Espel in Minneapolis, and serves as an adjunct professor at William Mitchell College of Law teaching land use management.

He has represented other counties in similar matters in the past.

Baker said the township must demonstrate that its expertise and capability in administering its own zoning must be equal or greater than that of the county.

“In cases of conflict, the county has supremacy,” Baker said.

Salkowski said the county has a qualified staff on site full time, and provides a “one-stop shop, delivering unequivocal service to the citizens of Wright County.”

“They (the township) have failed to make any case that they are able to provide this service,” Salkowski said.

“The county made a very generous offer a year ago in March, an offer to work in partnership with the township, and received no direct response,” Salkowski said.

The key issue centers on shoreland zoning.

Baker said the county has been asked by the township to acknowledge something that it is unable to grant based on the record.

“Mr. Marohn is not asking for approval of shoreland zoning, but for acknowledgement that the township has this authority,” Tiede said.

“The legally-required showing has not been made (by the township),” Baker replied.

Baker told the board that it was not required to take any action, but should wait for further input or submissions from the township.

Russek said if the township wishes to meet with the county to resolve the issue, it should propose some possible meeting dates.