21 Aug 2014
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Annexation Discussion Ends in a Draw

Renewed interest from a resident in Bridgewater Township has revived a heated annexation debate from 2010.

Annexation Discussion Ends in a Draw

A rural property owner has tentatively expressed interest in annexing his land into Northfield proper, but, as of Tuesday the Northfield City Council was divided as to how to follow up on the overture. 

The issue was brought to the fore by  Council Member Rhonda Pownell, who strongly encouraged the council to begin talks with the Bridgewater Township and the property owner, Ken Prawer, who hopes that his land will be used for an industrial development. Pownell found support in Council Members  Erica Zweifel and  Suzie Nakasian, who said that taking a proactive approach to Prawer's nibble of interest would be "the most business friendly move I've seen us make."

Mayor Dana Graham was more inclined to wait until Prawer made a formal request, as were Council Members  David DeLong and  David Ludescher.

"If Bridgewater wants to talk about it, we should do it, but I'm hesitant to initiate it ourselves," DeLong said. 

Past negotiations between the city and the township at Northfield's southwest border cast a long shadow over the discussion on Tuesday night. In 2009, the city of Northfield received a request from Prawer and another property owner, Bob Gill, asking the city to annex 456 acres of land. The request was approved by the Northfield Council in early 2010, but got shot down by the township. At the time, the township felt that annexation would be "premature," given the fact that the majority of the land would likely remain undeveloped for some time. The township also had concerns about who precisely would pay for infrastructure in the area and the impact of future developments on two streams running through the site.

Pownell felt that in 2013 the tides had turned. On Aug. 17, Prawer met with the Bridgewater Town Board. According to a memo from Pownell, at that meeting all parties "agreed verbally that the potential next step was to have the Northfield City Council appoint Council representatives to talk with the Town Board about the issues surrounding annexation."

Nakasian was inclined to agree that tensions had eased.

"The Hatfield and McCoy feel has relaxed in my opinion," Nakasian said. 

Pownell and her supporters also argued that the Prawer property was particularly desirable. She pointed out that the land is next to existing industrial concerns like MOM Brands and Cardinal Glass, and would also be well-situated for rail access. The cost for extending infrastructure would likely be cheaper than any of the other areas the city had considered for industrial development, she said. 

Earlier that evening, City Administrator Tim Madigan made the case for beginning an "action process" with respect to four undeveloped spots in the Northfield area that could become Enterprise Parks for industrial and commercial businesses. The Prawer property was not among them, and Madigan expressed doubts about the prospect of annexing it.

"My advice is to go slow. The township hasn't expressed an interest and Mr. Prawer is lukewarm," Madigan said. "Given the history, rather than the city proposing it, the city should perhaps step back. It's a hyper-sensitive thing that could go the wrong way."

He added that the annexation would be very time consuming, and that city staff could pursue it or the Enterprise Park action process, but not both. 

Ludescher, too, felt that the Prawer property could wait.

"You need someone to develop it before it becomes a viable option. We have land that could be developed already," Ludescher said. "I don't know what we would gain by studying it." 

To the contrary, Zweifel said, it would be important for Northfield to have an array of properties ready when a developer did come knocking. If the council passed on the property they could miss a business opportunity down the road, she warned.

"If we were limiting ourselves to the properties on this map (pertaining to the Enterprise Parks) we would not have gotten the Mayo project," Zweifel said. 

Pownell echoed Zweifel's remarks.

"I do think it's a strategic property. I'm OK with us waiting, but I think it would be wise of us not to ignore it," Pownell agreed. 

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