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City reviews zoning issues

New Richmond's tight grip on housing development within a mile and a half of its border might be loosening.

The city council Monday conducted a public hearing to gather comments about a proposal to allow some subdivisions on the fringes of their extra-territorial zone.

Current restrictions only allow for one housing unit on each 35 acres of land. Earlier this year, the city strengthened its extra-territorial reach to ensure that future growth can occur in an efficient manner.

Bob Barbian, director of planning and economic development, said the city's planning commission was recommending a change to allow rural subdivisions if land falls outside the designated sewer and water service zone.

In the areas where it's unlikely the city will extend services soon, Barbian said, the city might not choose to stop development.

"Perhaps it doesn't make sense of the city to be that strict," he said. "It's kind of a middle ground that's established."

Several proposals are being considered, including guidelines that would allow lot sizes ranging from one-half to one acre. The subdivisions would have to be designed to allow for possible annexation and city service extension in the future.

Engineering consultant David Carlson, with Short, Elliot, and Hendrickson, which is completing the city's sewer and water service area study, said it's important that New Richmond maintain some control around its borders.

He said the city wants to extend water and sewer at the lowest possible cost to new homeowners.

Carlson said once rural subdivisions start popping up, options for growth are limited.

Robert Procter, attorney for the Wisconsin Builders Association and St. Croix Valley Homebuilders Association, said the city is right to be considering a change in its extra-territorial restrictions.

He said the rights of landowners are being taken away under the present restrictions.

"We would like to see an ordinance with more flexibility," he said. "As it is written right now, we don't believe it goes far enough."

In order to be fair to landowners, Proctor said, development proposals should be considered individually if they fit in the city's plans for the future.

Bill Berndt, government affairs director of the Western Wisconsin Realtors Association and the St. Croix Valley Homebuilders Association, echoed those concerns.

Under the proposed amendment, only six of 22 sections of land in New Richmond's extra-territorial zone would be allowed to develop, Berndt said.

"I understand completely the need for planning," he said. "But we feel, in this instance, it's a sledgehammer approach."

He suggested the city continue talking with surrounding townships to reach an agreement that considers all parties.

Town of Stanton chairman Dick Hesselink agreed.

He said boundary agreement negotiations are continuing, but the most recent idea was never presented to the town representatives.

"We feel slighted," he admitted.

Hesselink said a lot more research and negotiations are required before any agreement is firmed up.

Homeowner Gerald Backes suggested the city consider dividing its extra-territorial zone into three sections. The further away a piece of property is from the city's border, fewer restrictions would be placed on development.

Although the city council was allowed to vote on the ordinance change, the group voted unanimously to delay any action until more meetings were held among landowners, town officials and city officials.

"We're one community," said alderman Jim Zajkowski. "That's the way it should be. Too often it's the townships versus the city. We have to do things as a community if we're going to move on."

Barbian said final action on the amendment shouldn't drag on forever. He noted that the proposed change would allow some landowners to move forward with building plans.

"I think it would be great to establish a timeframe," he said.

The council agreed to schedule the second reading of the ordinance change for its February meeting. The delay will allow for additional meetings to be conducted.

In a related matter, the council unanimously approved an exception to the extra-territorial restrictions for a subdivision proposed by Steve Derrick.

While there was no discussion about the variance during the meeting, city administrator Dennis Horner said later that the developer had purchased the property southeast of the city limits prior to discussion about stronger restrictions.

"He was looking at a hardship case," Horner explained.

Horner added that the exception is a one-time event, not meant to establish a precedence for future proposals in the extra-territorial zone.

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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