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Peterson responds to petition for detachment

By Kirsten Zoellner

Fri, Dec 13th, 2013
Posted in Peterson Government

Following a formal petition for annexation to the City of Rushford Village on December 3, the Peterson council discussed the issue at length, along with City Attorney Richard Nethercut. The petition, presented by Peterson residents Jan Smaby and Al Lipowicz, represents a parcel of land just under 40 within the city. The pair petitioned for annexation based on their current land zoning (agricultural) and because their land goals fit “naturally” with the Village’s comprehensive plan and ordinances.

At the time it was presented, the Village made no official vote on the matter. However, the council noted the delicacy of the issue due to the cooperative nature between the cities. The council indicated at that time that they would have no issue with annexation so long as the Peterson council had no concerns.

According to Nethercut, a state statute allows for detachment and annexation of properties if both petitioned entities agree. If no agreement can be reached, the statute allows for a governing state board to determine whether or not the property petition should allowed. If the entities have opposing wishes, a hearing would be held with a board examiner, the board would then vote on examiner’s findings. The statute lays out six points of criteria. The Smaby/Lipowicz petition meets at least three of the criteria: All property owners must have signed the petition; property must be rural in character and not developed; and property is within city limits and abuts property of township.

The other three criteria are more limiting in their definition and it is unclear how they would be interpreted in this case: detachment/annexation would not unreasonably affect symmetry of boundaries; land is not needed for reasonably anticipated development; and determination that detachment does not interferes with city’s function of government without undue hardship. The property, which represents the northwest corner of the city boundaries, represents one of the most developable areas within the city. Standing less than one square mile, to lose it would be significant to the small community, according to the council. The tax revenue from the property is currently $1,307 annually.

Nethercut also noted that most detachment/annexation issues are resolved before a hearing. Costs for the effort are usually shared 50/50 between the petitioner and the city. Based on recent cases, the timeframe is typically 6-9 months. If the issue went to a hearing, the parties would first meet with the board examiner, followed by ordered mediation. Nethercut also noted that there is currently no known timeframe from receipt of petition, in which cities must act, but for zoning and land use petitions a 90 day rule is in effect. In this case, he suggested it may be wise to act within a 90 day timeframe for safety.

One other key to Peterson’s case, according to legal counsel, may be that the statute does not allow detachment/annexation from city to city. Rather, cases are usually detachment from a township and annexation to a city. The City of Rushford Village, while more rural in nature and surrounding both cities of Peterson and Rushford, is by definition a city.

“In my opinion, we’ve been voted in to protect taxpayers’ interests,” stated Mayor Jennifer Wood. “We wouldn’t vote for detachment, at least not arbitrarily. This is a unique situation.”

The city will wait to find out the Village’s response to the petition before taking official action. In the meantime, Nethercut will look into the issue further. Mayor Wood will speak with City of Rushford Village Mayor Dale Schwanke regarding the issue, as well as appear before their council at the Tuesday, December 17 meeting. That meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the Village hall.

Nethercut also spoke to other zoning issues, particularly enforcement of ordinances, which have been plaguing the city over the course of the year. “You have to address it. You have no option not to enforce ordinances when there’s a complaint brought to the city,” he noted. “There’s a good reason why ordinances are in effect. The purpose of zoning is to enforce it. At some point you have to address your ordinances. The laws apply to everyone. You all play by the same rulebook.”

“When someone purchases a property within the city, it’s important to have those zoning ordinances in place to secure their investment,” added Mayor Wood. “That’s why we have ordinances. We have a format. It’s not a personal thing, it’s policy.”

Several of the issues revolve around an ongoing issue between Mike Eidenschenk, of Chuck’s Feed & Grain, and residents Dave Colbenson and Lori Martinez. Property purchased by Colbenson is in dispute between the two. Several other issues, including parking of grain trucks, and subsequent blocking of Colbenson’s property, and noise have stemmed from there.

“I have semis parking in front of the house, blocking the driveway. I laid on horn for nearly 20 minutes to try to get them to move. When I got out and started taking photos, then they moved,” said Martinez. “I went to office to talk with Mike Eidenschenk and he told me, ‘It’s not my problem.’ This happens frequently, a brigade of semis blockading my driveway. This has to stop. I was told to talk to the drivers, but I’m blatantly ignored,” she continued. “I don’t know who else to talk to. It’s personal.”

The road in question, which was the former railroad track bed into the city, was apparently a DNR-owned road at some point. According to Chuck Eidenschenk, some sections of the road were sold to individual parcels, but it is unclear which. City Clerk Megan Grebe cited a June 27 letter from the DNR which state the road is not something the DNR built or maintained. The council felt, regardless of ownership, it is logical that the city should be able to maintain or direct traffic on the road, regardless of who owns it, because of service to three city residences on the road.

“This is our home and I want my family to be comfortable in it,” added Martinez. “We’re all part of the city. We should be able to work cohesively.” Councilors Bill Grindland and Barry Erickson will talk with Mike Eidenschenk about the issues. Grebe will look into possible noise ordinance violation.

In other news, the city has approved a 3 percent budget increase for 2014. Recommended by consultant Mike Bubany, of David Drown Associates, the increase should allow enough to cover projects, while compensating for increased function expenses. The city is currently sitting in good financial condition, but several projects, including a massive County 25 road reconstruction, are planned for the coming years.

The next regularly scheduled council meeting is Wednesday, January 8, at 7 p.m., at city hall. The public is encouraged to attend.

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