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A line in the sand?

The City of New Richmond is willing to limit potential growth for the next 20 years if surrounding townships will cooperate with its planning goals.

For the past year, officials with the city and representatives from the towns of Richmond, Stanton, Star Prairie and Erin Prairie have been meeting periodically to negotiate possible joint boundary agreements.

City officials met with the town boards of Richmond and Star Prairie again last week. Significant progress appeared to be made with Star Prairie representatives. Negotiations with Richmond Township didn't go quite as well.

"It's tough," admitted Dennis Horner, New Richmond city administrator, to both groups. "Growth -- sometimes it isn't so good."

If adopted by each municipality, the boundary agreements would draw a temporary line around New Richmond showing how far out the city can expand over the next couple decades.

Town officials have been frustrated by the city's expansion into their land. Several township landowners have had their development plans stalled as the city attempts to plan for the future.

Currently, the city has control over development within a mile-and-a-half of its city limits. State laws allow cities extra-territorial plat review power so they are not hemmed in by expansive housing developments that eat up huge tracts of land.

Using the plat review power, the city last year began enforcing its ordinance that allows just one house on a 35-acre lot within a mile and a half of the city.

Even with the restrictions in place, New Richmond continues to grow.

And with each new development and subsequent annexation of land, that extra-territorial power stretches farther into neighboring townships.

The city is proposing that the outer limits for growth be firmly established about a mile to a mile-and-a-quarter of its present border. That future growth line was essentially established by the city's recently completed sewer service study, which determined what properties near the city would be easy to extend water and sewer services to.

In exchange for the city's voluntary limits, city officials want the townships to help clean up the city's border.

Horner said the city council would like town residents who now have sewer and water hooked up to their homes to annex into New Richmond within a year. Eight homes in Richmond Township are affected by that proposal.

The council also is requesting that township property that is surrounded by the city limits on three sides annex within the next five years.

"That's just poor planning," Horner said of the helter-skelter city border.

But Richmond Town Board member Fred Ball said he didn't think forced annexation was the way to go.

"Why not give them a chance to do it when they feel it's right?" he asked.

"That would be never," Horner responded. "Why would anybody annex voluntarily if the taxes are higher?"

Ball wouldn't budge.

"Is the city so hard up that the taxes from eight houses is going to make or break you?" he asked. "Why is it such a big deal?"

Horner said creating zoning islands makes it more difficult for the city to expand in an orderly fashion. Also, he argued, these homeowners already benefit from essentially being city residents, but they don't contribute to the tax base.

"I don't see it," Ball said.

Richmond Town Chairman Warren Bader suggested the city not force annexation, but instead recoup monies for city services by taking a portion of a home's taxes. He agreed that the option was likely not acceptable to the city because that option would not expand its tax base.

City Clerk Joe Bjelland told Richmond officials the city is giving up a lot of flexibility by pursuing boundary agreements, and the townships have to "give up" something in return.

If agreements are not reached, Bjelland warned, the mile-and-a-half extra-territorial zone will continue to expand. He also noted that, if New Richmond ever grows past a population of 10,000, the extra-territorial zone expands to three miles.

"It just seems a fair way of doing this," Bjelland said of the cooperative agreements, adding that if nothing is done landowners in limbo will continue to be frustrated by the city's plat review process.

Bader suggested a few changes to the line proposed by the city. Horner said the Council is willing to negotiate the final boundaries with the surrounding townships.

The city and townships also seem to agree that a new joint city/township planning commission would be responsible for approving housing and commercial developments on land between the boundary agreement line and the mile-and-a-half extra-territorial zone.

Developers who choose to construct homes in that joint planning zone would be allowed to install wells and septic systems or hook up to city services. Cluster housing will be the preferred option for development in the zone, because it's simple to hook up to city services if the land is ever annexed, Horner explained.

In the end, Richmond supervisors asked for a joint meeting of the town board and the New Richmond City Council. The meeting was set for 7 p.m. July 24.

Horner said the city will have a draft boundary agreement ready by then.

"We can agree on everything and we're all set," Horner said with a smile. "Or not agree and we'll try to negotiate."

Ball warned the joint meeting might be a long one. He said he wanted the issue to be resolved, one way or the other.

Supervisors from Star Prairie Township came to its meeting with city officials armed with a boundary agreement proposal.

The general outline of issues was compiled by Scott Counter, a town board member.

While the draft agreement was pretty much in line with the city's ideas, the city's future boundary would be considerably smaller. Star Prairie officials would like to see any developments within a quarter mile of the present border annexed into the city.

Anything outside a quarter mile would remain in the township and have the option of annexing or independent water and sewer systems.

"This will get us another step into it," Counter said of the draft proposal.

Horner said the town's proposal showed promise.

"I think we can get something going here," he said.

Star Prairie officials will meet in a joint session with the New Richmond City Council at 7 p.m. July 26.