Star Tribune missed the bullseye with Target story

January 26, 2008

by Ryan Gueningsman

More than a month after Delano city officials voted to table a utility sharing agreement with neighboring Independence to extend sewer and water utilities from Delano into Independence for potential “big box” development, a reporter from Star Tribune reported the juicy story with the lead, “Another Target store, another protest.”

Whether one is personally in favor of a Target store in western Independence, bordering Wright County and Delano at the northeast corner of Highway 12 and County Line Road, or against it, the article paints a picture as if it’s only days before the next Great Wall of China is built between the two communities.

The second paragraph of the article states, “the ones aiming to keep out one of the country’s largest retailers are city officials in Delano and not simply neighbors concerned about noise or traffic.”

Seems to me Delano city officials have worked to ensure that, if such a project moves forward, the best interests of Delano are looked out for. Officials from both Delano and Independence have made efforts to work together to create a utility-sharing agreement for the project.

Delano would be providing a service to Independence, since Independence is unable to provide its own sewer and water utilities to the site, so why shouldn’t Delano be reimbursed for this if it happens?

It also has been requested by Delano officials to have some control over additional growth in Independence near the development.

Perhaps it is “highly unusual” for a city to request restrictions such as this on another municipality, but it certainly isn’t unwarranted for the health of Delano. Delano City Administrator Phil Kern has done an excellent job championing Delano and looking out for its best interests.

After discussion, it was discovered the City of Independence would not receive as much tax benefit from the project as it thought because of the fiscal disparities program – and therefore, it would not be able to pay Delano what it feels is necessary for extending sewer and water into Independence.

“It doesn’t make sense to move forward if we’re not going to come out ahead,” Independence City Administrator Toni Hirsch said at the time, explaining the fiscal disparities program is a revenue-sharing program for cities in the seven-county metro area.

When a city in that area, such as Independence, receives a commercial or industrial building, the city receives some of the original tax base, but only a portion of it. All of the other cities in the seven-county metro area also stand to benefit from the project.

“It gets split between communities that are in there,” Hirsch said. “The amount of money in this pool gets divided up.”

Because Independence doesn’t stand to receive the full tax benefit from the property, it would be unable to pay what Delano had requested from Independence in the draft utility sharing agreement. Therefore, it was requested the agreement be tabled.

Doesn’t seem like a rivalry to me.

Overall, it seems the two communities have worked well together in trying to come up with the necessary agreement for such a project to move forward.

Delano officials aren’t aiming to keep out one of the country’s largest retailers; they are simply looking out for the best interests of Delano should such a project come to fruition. Delano does have many long-term, healthy businesses in the community that have served their customers for many years.

The City of Independence had also requested a land-use change review by the City of Delano for the site. As an adjoining jurisdiction, Delano had 60 days to review the proposal and respond by Dec. 29. The City of Delano conducted a public hearing regarding the request Dec. 4.

“We outlined the background of discussions, and the backbone of a potential utility sharing agreement between the City of Delano and the City of Independence,” Kern said at the time.

Plans called for a commercial development on the 23 acres of land that would include 160,000 square feet of retail space, anchored by a 120,000-square-foot “big box” store. The developer is Ryan Companies, a Twin Cities-based retail development company.

Knowing that a utility sharing agreement is not in place between the two cities, the Delano City Council voted to recommend denial of Independence’s land-use change request to the Metropolitan Council, which has final authority over the request.

Delano Mayor Joe McDonald did send a letter to the Met Council voicing opposition to rezoning the land for the development, however, it was not as an extreme measure, but rather because he was asked to.

It goes back to reviewing the proposal as a neighboring jurisdiction, and responding in favor or against the project. Sending the letter of opposition was not an extreme measure or a surprise to anyone involved.

“It was expected if they didn’t get that agreement,” Hirsch said in December. “We knew we were going to get a negative comment from them because they told us that during the process.”

So, McDonald didn’t “go so far” as to send the letter to the Met Council as the Star Tribune article states, but he simply put in writing the council’s recommendation to deny the request because of concerns with the lack of municipal sanitary and sewer, stormwater drainage issues, and traffic impact.

Since the meeting in December, it appears the issue remains tabled and city officials are uncertain if there is a Target store in the future for the area.

Does any of this make either community a “bad guy?” Not really.

Each entity is simply looking out for its best interests, but has also demonstrated a willingness to work together.

This editorial has also been sent to the Star Tribune.