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City, townships air frustrations at joint meeting

Like a growing foot in an already tight shoe, New Richmond is feeling the land squeeze.

That hemmed-in feeling is what prompted the city recently to begin enforcing its extra-territorial powers within a mile and a half of its borders.

Under the restrictions, the city no longer allows more than one house to be constructed on a minimum 35-acre lot.

By slowing development, the city hopes to keep its border expansion possibilities open. Officials claim that recent rural developments are starting to restrict which direction the city can grow, and that's a bad thing.

Officials point to Hudson, noting that rural housing developments there have left the city with no options for growth. They want to avoid a similar fate here.

The newly enforced restrictions have frustrated surrounding townships and landowners, who hope to plan for their own future.

Town officials say the city is taking away property owners' development rights without fairly compensating them.

The swirling controversy led to a joint meeting of town board, city and county officials June 28. In the end, all of the parties agreed to work together toward a compromise agreement rather than take legal action.

City consultant David Carlson, with Short Elliott Hendrickson, Inc.'s community and economic development department, said New Richmond is not necessarily intent on enforcing its extra-territorial rules long term.

He said the most recent move is intended to bring town officials together with the city to work out compromise border agreements.

As the meeting began, town officials voiced their displeasure with the city's apparent strong-handed tactics.

Richmond Town Board supervisor Fred Ball said landowners have been stripped of their right to sell their land while the restrictions are in place.

"That hurts quite a bit if you can't divide it," he said. "You're controlling land you don't own."

"Every governmental unit controls land it doesn't own," Carlson responded. "Every government in this room does that."

Town of Star Prairie chairman Doug Rivard said surrounding towns are "getting squeezed" with all of restrictions in place.

In the case of his township, restrictions imposed by the cities of Star Prairie and New Richmond, along with restrictions in place surrounding the airport, make growth difficult.

Housing contractor Steve Derrick said the city's rules won't allow landowners to sell until the city is ready to annex and extend sewer and water to their property.

"You're taking away their right to sell when they want to do it," he said.

Dick Hesselink, Town of Stanton chairman, said the mess is hindering the master planning process of the towns.

"If you're limiting our growth, you're hurting your neighbor," he said.

Both sides claimed the courts would find in favor of them, but any talk of a legal fight faded quickly.

While acknowledging the towns have legitimate concerns about maintaining tax base and landowner rights, Carlson said the city is left with few alternatives to guide growth.

Carlson said the city was forced to put its foot down after numerous subdivisions popped up close to its border.

If such growth continued close to the city borders, Carlson said extending water and sewer service to land further out would be too costly.

"If the city didn't do anything, we're basically going to end up being land locked," he said. "The city had to do something, and do something rather quickly."

While the towns feel threatened by the city's extra-territorial enforcement, Carlson said the most recent move is really intended to get town officials together with the city to work out compromise border agreements.

If agreements can be reached, the 35-acre rule would likely be dropped, he claimed.

"To a certain extent, the 35-acre rule is a way to say 'come on and let's talk,'" he said.

Carlson said border agreements with each town would allow for all municipalities to plan for the future.

Town of Star Prairie supervisor Scott Counter urged everyone to jump on board and work out a compromise.

"I really feel intergovernmental cooperation is necessary," he said.

Derrick said the longer the controversy drags on, the more hard feelings toward the city will strengthen. He also urged cooperation among all parties.

"It's time to do something about it," he said.

Horner agreed. "Lately we've been butting heads more and more. That doesn't help anybody."

St. Croix County Planning Director David Fodroczi added his support to any cooperative efforts.

"You'd all be better off working together rather than fighting," he said. "For everybody's sake."

Town officials asked if the city would be willing to discuss providing water and sewer service to some nearby township residents, without being annexed into the city.

City Administrator Dennis Horner said that could be part of any agreement, noting that anyone outside the established border could pay to have services extended.

New Richmond Mayor Dave Schnitzler said he's supportive of sitting down and hammering out border agreements that benefit everyone involved.

"We're neighbors," he said. "Things are happening so fast in this county it's hard to keep up. But I think we're going in the right direction anyway."

Hesselink agreed.

"This is the first big step right now. We're talking," he said. "We're not jabbing each other in the back when we leave, I hope."

The group set its next meeting for 7 p.m. July 20. The town chairmen and city officials will discuss the preliminary steps to establishing boundary agreements.

Jeff Holmquist
Jeff Holmquist has been managing editor of the New Richmond News since 2004. He holds a bachelor's degree in journalism and business administration from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. He has previously worked as editor in Wadena, Minn.; Detroit Lakes, Minn.; Hutchinson, Minn.; and Bloomington, Minn. He also was previously owner of the Osceola Sun, Stillwater Courier and Scandia Messenger along with his wife. Together they previously founded and published The Old Times newspaper for antiques and collectibles collectors; and Up!, a Christian magazine of hope and encouragement.
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