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Peterson denies detachment request, councilor resigns

By Kirsten Zoellner

Fri, Jan 17th, 2014
Posted in Peterson Government

Peterson resident Alan Lipowitz and his attorney Tom Murphy were on hand at the Wednesday, January 9 council meeting, to respond to any questions regarding he and his wife, Jan Smaby’s, request for detachment from the city. The duo is seeking annexation to the City of Rushford Village. They discussed their case for a petition for annexation with the Village council at the December 3 CRV meeting.

“We presented our case to them by their invitation,” said Lipowitz. “They asked us to come to their meeting to discuss our case.” At the December meeting, the Village council discussed the matter at length, agreeing to wait upon Peterson’s actions before making more comment on the petition. The council also agreed that any decision would have to be agreed upon by both cities due to the cooperative nature of the communities.

At that time, Rushford Village Councilor Gordy Johnson cautioned the city not to jump the gun. “We’ve been down this road before, on both sides. In order to maintain a relationship with Peterson, this would need to be done orderly. We rely on each other.”

“Both cities would have to agree,” added Mayor Dale Schwanke in response to Johnson’s comment. “This would need to be a concurrent agreement. We need to be cautious of not suggesting to Peterson that we’re trying to take something away from them.”

The relationship between the cities has been an ongoing effort for years and has been contentious at times. Both Rushford Village City Clerk Kristina Mart and Mayor Dale Schwanke were reached for comment on Lipowitz’s claim of invitation by the Village, which would have oddly come prior to the duo asking for detachment from Peterson. When asked whether this was accurate or whether Lipowitz misspoke, Schwanke said, “Yes, I’d have to say he misspoke. We have an open invitation to anyone who wants to speak to the council and anyone can come.”

Clerk Mart noted, “They contacted the Village stating their reasons why they wanted to detach from Peterson and asked if they could come and share them with the Village Council.” Mart also noted via email that Lipowitz and Smaby were on the agenda for the January 7 meeting, but did not attend.

“What is your need for leaving?” asked Councilor Barry Erickson. “What fear do you have? Can you give us a good feeling to this as to why you want to leave? Is there something you need?

According to Murphy the only city service that the property receives is garbage pickup. Road dust prevention was offered, but the couple refused it. Currently, the property represents 1.8 percent of the Peterson tax base, but the 39.8 acres is a substantial piece of land for the small community.

Smaby and Lipowitz have long argued that the property is the only agriculturally homesteaded land within the city, despite there being other agricultural land, and that it fits better with the Village’s zoning ordinances and new comprehensive plan. “Instead of one unique property and conjoined on sides by the Village, it seems a better fit,” said Lipowitz. “One concern we have is the potential of zoning. We bought it to retain agricultural character. 13 percent of it is tied up in Conservation Reserve Program for another 45 years. We want to maintain this as a rural piece of property. Do something for us; let us go,” he continued.

“We can keep it the same,” responded Erickson. “We can’t afford to lose any more taxes. My other concern is that in another 20 years, we’re all gone. This is going to affect the future. In 45 years, when it’s done, Peterson could expand. I don’t want to say to this city in the future, this isn’t an option.”

Attorney Murphy echoed his client’s desire to see the land stay the same. “We’re willing to make a payment, say $3,000. Call it a good faith gesture. If the Village accepts and we have an injunction, then you may see nothing and we feel they will succeed.”

Mayor Jennifer Wood felt Peterson’s own comprehensive plan fit Lipowitz and Smaby’s vision for their land just as well. “Your wife was on the council at the time it was developed. We have the same rural atmosphere and character as a legacy. In my opinion, we would be doing a disservice to our own comprehensive plan to let it go. I don’t feel we can vote to do that. It would not be servicing Peterson.”

“It would be a loss of property, but we would also be losing two people,” added Councilor Gail Boyum. “We don’t want to do that.”

“I wouldn’t like to see land from our small area diminish,” noted Councilor Dick Lee. “I make a motion that we do not allow the property to be taken out of the city.” Councilor Erickson seconded the motion and all voted in favor of it.

“We will then proceed as we feel appropriate,” responded Lipowitz. “We were willing to offset it monetarily. If we’re successful in our pursuit, there will be costs to the City of Peterson.”

The councilor noted that they were aware there could be some legal costs. It’s still unclear at this point on a point made by Peterson’s city attorney at the December meeting that it’s not allowable for a property to detach from one city and annex to another city without agreement by both cities. These types of property transfers are typically from a township to a city. It is expected that the issue will be taken up by the City of Rushford Village council at their Tuesday, January 21 meeting.

In other news, long-time Peterson council member Bill Grindland has tendered his resignation, effective December 31, 2013. Several replacement candidates, who were willing to serve, were discussed by the council. According to the League of Minnesota Cities, there is not a statutory mandate and typically cities appoint a replacement, often from one who’d been on the previous ballot.

It was decided that Will Guise will fill Grindland’s vacancy. Guise is a more than 20 year resident of the community and has recently retired from military service. He has been serving on the County 25 Project committee.

The County 25 Project planning is moving along. The scope of the project has been reduced and reshaped. The city is currently awaiting estimates for electrical work along the roadway before it moves forward.

Discussion over an assessment policy for the project also continues and was tabled at the January 9 meeting pending more research over options. It will be discussed at the next meeting.

The next regularly scheduled meeting is Wednesday, February 12, at 7 p.m., at city hall. The public is encouraged to attend.

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