City could look at annexing Woodland Heights soon [UPDATED]Published 12:37pm Monday, July 23, 2012 Updated 8:46am Tuesday, July 24, 2012
A decade ago, the Fergus Falls City Council seriously considered annexing Woodland Heights, the neighborhood just north of town and east of Cleveland Avenue/County Highway 27. Residents of Woodland Heights rebelled against the idea, circulating a survey that showed almost unanimous disapproval of the move.height
“There was a lot of opposition and resistance,” City Administrator Mark Sievert said of the annexation attempt in the early 2000s.
The council tabled the idea in 2002, but Woodland Heights residents may soon be hearing talk of annexation again.
At this time, the council has made no move to annex Woodland Heights, and Sievert said city staff has not been instructed to look at annexation logistics (he added that staff would not likely make a recommendation about annexation one way or the other). However, an upcoming major city utility project could end up getting the council to pull the trigger.
The project in question would be a long-discussed connection of the water tower off North Cleveland Avenue to city water lines to the east of Woodland Heights. The 500,000-gallon water tower would connect to lines already in place in the Stonybrook area, providing greater water pressure to many locations in the town’s northeast section and a contingency water supply if the closest water plant has to temporarily shut down.
“We haven’t done much more than rough engineering,” said City Engineer Dan Edwards, who noted that a placeholder cost of $400,000 could drastically change by the time the project is ready to go (township and city officials were unsure of the population or number of homes in the area, though there are several tens of houses there). “It’s really, really early.”
Right now, the city is focused on other construction or utility projects, including the completion of the Tower Road bridge and the road reconstruction on and around Mill Street. But this fall, discussion may turn to the water tower connection.
“We either have to go through or around Woodland Heights,” said Sievert of the route the water lines would need to take.
Going through the neighborhood would be a more direct approach, but it would require an inroads into Woodland Heights for the city: either Fergus Falls Township would have to grant a right-of-way, or the city could annex the neighborhood outright.
Building a water line through Woodland Heights might be the perfect time to get residents hooked up to city utilities, said Sievert – especially because the city has long-term environmental concerns from so many people in the area using their own septic tanks. He added that right now, Woodland Heights residents get the benefit of most of the things the city has to offer (the library, Pebble Lake Beach, the ice arena, etc.) without sharing in any of the tax burden.
“They really get an advantage of using our park systems and all of the (city amenities),” he said, adding, “There’re some fairness issues … and it’s an opportunity for the city to grow.”
An agreement with Fergus Falls Township that came out of the 2002 annexation discussions stated that the city could annex the neighborhood in 2010. Normally, the township could file an objection if the city tried to annex a piece of property (usually because the city owns a piece of land or because a property owner asks for annexation), but the agreement states that the Fergus Falls Township will not officially object to the annexation. The council would only have to pass a resolution, wait 30 days for the resolution to be processed at the state, and Woodland Heights would become part of the city.
It’s a move some Fergus Falls Township officials believe would still be unpopular, at least in part due to a heavier tax burden in the city. In 2012, average taxes on a Fergus Falls township home worth $100,000 after the market value exclusion and before an additional market value tax were $836.61, compared to $1,131.84 on the same value home within city limits.
“I don’t think the people of Woodland Heights want to go into Fergus,” said Victor Petterson, one of the township’s supervisors.
Though he said an annexation wouldn’t force the township to eliminate services, Petterson said the savings from not having to keep up with Woodland Heights’ roads and other costs would not outweigh the lost tax revenue from the neighborhood’s residents.
“Our township is small in the first place,” he noted. If the city of Fergus Falls didn’t encroach on the township, the southern boundary of the township would stretch south of Lincoln Avenue.
Woodland Heights is in the city’s future plans. In zoning maps that look at projected city limits in 2030, 2040 and 2050, the area is residentially zoned within the city, along with projected residential development to the east where the mostly unoccupied Norgren property currently sits.
Several council members did not return phone calls seeking comment on the annexation, but Alderman Scott Rachels believes it would make sense to annex the area when and if the time comes to place the water line.
“Some people probably wouldn’t like it, but some people are probably waiting for it,” he said, adding that less direct approaches like a route change or right-of-way situation would not be preferable, especially given that annexation has been in the cards for decades.
“I’m thinking that annexation would be the better way,” he said. “It’s been talked about for 25, 30 years, and I think it’s time.”