I-35 development targeted

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 23, 1999

The construction of a multi-million industrial park within view of Interstate 35 will continue whether it is annexed into the city, or remains in Albert Lea Township.

Thursday, September 23, 1999

The construction of a multi-million industrial park within view of Interstate 35 will continue whether it is annexed into the city, or remains in Albert Lea Township.

Email newsletter signup

Annexation is necessary because the 120-acre development must have sewer utilities to attract industry, said Darv Habben, a local business man and the park’s developer.

But while the city and township are currently locked in an annexation dispute involving a city street and the future development, Habben said he won’t let the dispute spoil his dream of a growing city.

Habben blamed township officials for the dispute, adding, &uot;I can rise above it.&uot;

On the development, he said, &uot;I’m going to do it.&uot;

The township officials say they’re not to blame, adding they have no quarrel with Habben.

Habben plans to start construction Oct. 1 at the future park at the junction of Interstate 35 and Highway 65. The city-run Port Authority is also a partner in the development, with the City Council approving a proposal to purchase 33 acres of the development for $863,000.

Both Habben and the Port Authority would then partner in marketing the park.

But if the dispute is never settled, Habben said the completed park will serve as an empty &uot;albatross&uot; of potential growth.

&uot;The township can play all the games they want,&uot; he added. &uot;I’m going to pledge ahead and make the city grow. The township can fight any battle they want.&uot;

What’s wrong

At the heart of the dispute between the city and township governments is W. Ninth Street, recently annexed by the city to serve two residential developments. The township maintains that the city illegally annexed W. Ninth this summer and agreed to return it to the township as part of an orderly annexation agreement involving Habben’s property. That claim was denied by Albert Lea Mayor Marv Wangen, who said if the annexation was illegal, the state wouldn’t have approved it.

&uot;Ninth Street is a part of the city and it will remain that way,&uot; Wangen said, adding the township is responsible for any delays. &uot;It doesn’t seem rational. I would say our frustration goes without saying.&uot;

An annexation agreement was sent to the city Tuesday by Roger Knutson, a Twin Cities attorney who was hired by the township board to represent it in the Habben annexation.

It did include the return of W. Ninth Street and Wedgewood Road, also recently annexed into Albert Lea.

Wangen said the city didn’t the know W. Ninth was included until it received the agreement.

&uot;We spent the money on drawing it up,&uot; Albert Lea Township Chairman Larry Lestrud said of the agreement; Knutson’s fee is $150 an hour. &uot;Now, they (city government) don’t want to sign it. I can’t understand why they won’t sign it. This is what the city wanted.&uot;

But Wangen said the city didn’t agree to return W. Ninth Street, only Wedgewood when city officials met with Lestrud and Knutson in July.

West Ninth was annexed by the city to serve two future residential developments, including Pickerel Park Townhomes, an approved low-to-moderate income housing development at the corner of W. Ninth Street and Highway 69.

While Pickerel Park Townhomes has met intense resistance from its neighbors and the township board, Lestrud said this dispute has nothing to do with the Newbury Development Corporation project.

In the agreement, the township granted easements to the city to extend utilities to both developments. One development, the former 160-acre Bertha Weiks’ farm, does not border Albert Lea.

Because the 160-acre piece isn’t contiguous with Albert Lea, Wangen said the city government wouldn’t agree to return W. Ninth Street; it’s the city’s only access to the development.

If the city wants, however, to widen the street at its expense as is planned and approved, Albert Lea Township Supervisor Stan Reichl said the township wouldn’t object.

In the unsigned, orderly annexation agreement, the township granted the city all necessary easements to serve any development with utilities.

&uot;Marv (Wangen) said we will give you Ninth Street,&uot; Reichl said. &uot;They can’t legally take the streets and they found that out. I’m all for Habben. I’m all for it. It’s a done deal. I don’t know why we should be blamed for something the city is not doing. Larry (Lestrud) will sign that agreement today.&uot;

Lestrud said the township won’t try to stop the city annexation if it does so without the township’s approval in a process called annexation by ordinance, which is possible if the property is contiguous, or bordering the city.

But both Lestrud and Reichl said they won’t drop the Ninth Street clause from the orderly annexation agreement – that is, unless the city agrees in writing to return W. Ninth Street in a separate agreement, Reichl said, adding he is thinking about resigning his position because of current disputes with the city.

Lestrud also criticized the city for stalling when the township asked for legal descriptions of the property.

If anyone deserves blame, &uot;it’s the city,&uot; he said. Bob Sorenson, the third township board member, couldn’t be reached for comment.

&uot;Why do they want the street?&uot; asked City Attorney Steve Schwab. &uot;The city is opposed to that because we need the road. Roads don’t pay any taxes.&uot;

Schwab said the city would agree to discuss both uses separately, but has said the city annexation was completely legal.

The township, however, wants to keep the road because it built the road and maintained it, said Knutson, the township attorney.

&uot;The township wants it back because they built it and maintained it,&uot; he said, adding he’s received less than $2,000 from the township for his services. &uot;It should be a part of the township. I’m hoping we can work things out.&uot;

The township is also asking for what amounts to an additional $2,500 in lost property revenue once the property is annexed.

The city has offered to pay the township $12,500, or the equivalency of half of the township’s property taxes for the next five years from the development. It’s also offering the township $2,000 to reimburse it for road expenses; the road was constructed by Habben, who said the township still owes him $4,000 for the road.

In a formula, the township is seeking $15,000, up $2,500 from what state statutes require.

But the financial difference isn’t a major holdup.

Habben said he will write the township a check for $2,500 if it agrees to drop W. Ninth Street from the agreement.

Schwab said he can’t speak for the City Council, but didn’t expect the council to haggle about the difference.