Crow Wing County commissioners faced another 30-minute round on annexation issues Tuesday.
By the end of the discussion, commissioners said they were encouraged by action by both Brainerd and Baxter. But they stopped short of endorsing either Brainerd or Baxter municipal efforts to annex land. Commissioners were serving as the town board for Unorganized Territory.
Commissioners received a mini-session on annexation options via state guidelines. A question yet unresolved is whether the state attorney general could view Unorganized Territory as a township. Townships can enter into orderly annexation agreements. In orderly annexation, property would not have to abut land already part of a city, which is indeed a need for certain annexation avenues. Assistant County Attorney John Hancock said there was no case law to direct a decision as the question had not happened in the state before.
"Where else but Crow Wing County?" Commissioner Jim Hill said.
Baxter's annexation petition will not be heard before Minnesota Planning before Feb. 11. Brainerd's annexation process is expected to go there as well. Both involve land in Unorganized Territory. Brainerd is scheduling a public hearing regarding annexation at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 7, at Brainerd City Hall.
Tuesday, commissioners were told if they supported either city's claim it would be political support only and would in probability neither help nor hurt.
"I'm very concerned we are at this point," Commissioner Ed Larsen said. "What I see here is that we're caught in a tug of war. ... I still think there are people here we have not heard from. ... At this point I am opposed to any annexation today."
Larsen said he wished the discussion process could continue while the Highway 371 commercial development moratorium is in place.
"If we do this without a plan we've done nothing less than create a bigger mess and more hard feelings," Larsen said.
In terms of long-term planning, Baxter Mayor Gary Muehlhausen said the city started their process long ago even as it has accelerated more recently. "We do want to work with our neighbor Brainerd," Muehlhausen told commissioners.
The city of Brainerd was actually on the county's agenda and noted Brainerd's own comprehensive plan looked at property within two miles of the city limits as much as eight years ago. City Administrator Dan Vogt said the first issue is that Brainerd's annexation plans do not overlap the same property as Baxter's.
"The issue of 371 is, as I see it, no longer a topic," Vogt said.
Noting that the matter has to go before the Brainerd City Council, Vogt said Brainerd is discussing annexing land south of Wise Road and east and west of Beaver Dam Road.
Commissioner Gil Dewes said Brainerd's proposed plans clarified the issue and took some of the heat off the conflict.
"There is no conflict that I can see," Vogt said, noting that may not be the way the public or the press looks at it. Vogt has consistently described annexation issues as differences of opinion vs. a long-term conflict.
Brainerd City Council member Gary Scheeler has called property owners and said the people involved in the petitions are electing which community they want to live in. Baxter Council member Mary Marana said she also made calls and there were people who wanted to have their names removed from petitions. But several names mentioned were not on the petition areas in question as Brainerd provided a colorized map, outlining land ownership and annexation areas.
Lewie Smith, Lewie's RV on Highway 371 North, sought clarification that Brainerd was not seeking formerly contested land on the west side of Danielson Road along Highway 371.
"You're saying you'll pull back from this?" Smith asked.
"To look for a peaceful resolution ... I think that is best," Scheeler said.
"I believe it just makes more sense period to be looking at Baxter," Smith said, noting he was speaking as a businessman and not because he had anything against Brainerd.
Hill said the county may still need to have a public hearing to find out what the people are saying. But he said, "I'm extremely pleased with developments that have occurred." Hill said the board was concerned about the land, about planning and about what the majority of people in Unorganized Territory want.
"I feel good about what transpired here," Dewes said. Dewes made a motion to support both entities in regard to plans expressed Tuesday for annexation. But the motion died for lack of a second.
Hill said he would rather a motion waited for a public hearing. The board voted to follow the assistant county attorney's recommendation to send letters to Minnesota Planning noting the county's interest in being informed about annexation and to clarify the acreage size of Baxter's annexation petition, which would allow the process to continue for both cities.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.