TIFFIN– A proposed annexation by the City of Tiffin is still moving forward, and even with the city’s slow and careful pace, this annexation request could be a little easier than the one accomplished 10 years ago.
Still, there is more work to be done, according to a recent update from two of the city’s hired consultants.
Chris Janson and Shawn O’Shea of MSA Professional Services asked the Tiffin City Council at its Jan. 23 meeting to brainstorm the most important information to share about Tiffin’s request to annex almost 700 acres of rural property into its city limits.
The area identified as high priority for annexation is south and east of the current city limits, between 340th Street on the north, US Hwy. 218 on the east, 360th Street on the south and Jasper Avenue on the west.
In the late 1990s, Tiffin requested to annex 770 acres, some of which was located near Tiffin’s interchange with Interstate 80– where the Kum & Go is now– and some that is now the city’s industrial park.
At that time, county planning officials were concerned about Tiffin’s ability to serve new development with infrastructure like streets, water, sewer and public safety services. They also felt the annexation created urban sprawl, preferring compact development that would preserve more of Johnson County’s agricultural properties. In addition, Coralville fought Tiffin’s annexation with a lawsuit, as Coralville had also identified the same land as a place for future expansion in its long-range plan. Tiffin modified its request by removing 100 acres of the contested land, and a judge ruled in favor of Tiffin in 2003.
Avoiding urban sprawl is still a strong tenet of the county’s current Land Use Plan, but the board of supervisors has been made aware of Tiffin’s new plans for annexation, and supervisor Rod Sullivan attended the city’s public meeting on the issue in July.
“Tiffin wanted to make sure that supervisors were aware of what was happening, which was appreciated,” said Sullivan. “The supervisors are the only representation that people in the unincorporated areas have. When a city talks about annexation, property owners don’t have a vote, so automatically they turn to the supervisors. We work with them to make this the best process it can be for the people we represent.”
Sullivan could not confirm the county’s support, though.
“I cannot say that we as a board would support it, because we have had zero formal discussion on it,” Sullivan said.
Whether or not the county would support the annexation, the control currently lies with the 20 owners of the 33 affected parcels, who must all give their written consent before the city will do anything, said Tiffin City Administrator Michon Jackson. So far, just two property owners have signed on, but Jackson said in a telephone interview last week she is not aware of any resistance.
“We have heard a lot of people say they intend to come in and sign the petition,” Jackson said. “When we had our public meetings, people came with questions, like ‘Can we still burn? Can we have more than two pets?’ We sent letters out to homeowners to notify them of the request. We likely will hold more meetings, and we may have to go door-to-door to try to reach those who cannot come to meetings or come into city hall.”
To facilitate conversations with those who want to know more, Tiffin hired MSA Professional Services in mid-2011 to assist with the annexation process.
“We felt we needed professional advisors to work out a plan for the annexation process and to help the City of Tiffin present the reasons for annexation to property owners identified in our high priority area,” Tiffin Mayor Steve Berner said.
Last Wednesday, O’Shea and Janson asked council members for the most important information to be shared in order to create a set of talking points, so city officials are all on the same page with the details they provide.
“The idea is to give a unified response,” said Janson.
The most important thing for people to know, said council member Peggy Upton, is that they won’t notice much change at all.
“I think we want to reassure them that things will change as little as possible,” Upton said. She also described any potential changes in property tax in those areas as “negligible” if annexed into Tiffin. MSA created a comparison showing the tax impact on undeveloped properties if they were to annex into Tiffin, Coralville, or stay in the county, and that document is available at City Hall.
Roads in the affected areas would be maintained much as they are now, likely through a negotiated agreement between the city and the county, noted Berner. The City of Tiffin has no plans at this time to change the nature of the annexed areas, either; people could keep their farming operations and homesteads as they are for the foreseeable future.
Meanwhile, O’Shea and Janson suggested the city should create a comprehensive plan to give direction on future growth.
Jackson said that has been one of her major goals since being hired last April.
“I would like to start working on the comprehensive plan this year. It’s a very important road map for cities. Of course, we would get residents involved and have many chances for public input to find out what everyone in the community actually wants,” said Jackson. Creating a comprehensive plan is about a year-long process.
The more immediate pressure to complete the annexation, though, is perceived as coming from the east.
Much of the council’s discussion last week centered around Coralville’s plans for its own future expansion; some of the property Tiffin hopes to capture is already depicted in Coralville’s comprehensive plan, said Berner. Janson suggested Tiffin officials emphasize this point to landowners, and draw a comparison between the character of the two cities and the way each deals with land use.
“In its current state, we see (Tiffin as having more) people either living on a farm, have an agricultural business, or live on a residential acreage. We would see it as advantageous for you to say ‘Nothing is going to change immediately, and over the long term, you are going to deal with Tiffin, which understands a rural background more than Coralville does,’” said Janson. “Instead of dealing with a council who is working on developing malls and the Coralville strip, you are dealing with Tiffin and people who understand that (rural) lifestyle.”
Coralville is in a stronger position to provide municipal services to annexed areas right away, noted council member Mike Ryan, and he was concerned that could entice future commercial developers away from Tiffin.
“Coralville could come in and say we can build a six-lane road to your business and have water there next week. We can’t do that,” said Ryan. “Don’t get into an argument about infrastructure, because we can’t get it done as quickly as Coralville can.”
Councilman Royce Phillips shared Ryan’s concerns about the potential for Coralville to aggressively seek to annex Tiffin’s prioritized areas.
“The issue is, Coralville is coming. Do you want to deal with subdivision with Tiffin or Coralville? If that 900-pound gorilla wasn’t sitting there, we would say to our neighbors ‘(annex) whenever you are ready,’” said Phillips.
Even if the neighbors are ready, even if the annexation receives supporting signatures of 100 percent of the landowners and gets an official endorsement from the Johnson County Board of Supervisors, there is still a hoop to jump through at the state level; annexations are required to pass the approval of the City Development Board.
But Janson remained optimistic about that step as well.
“If you come to them with 100 percent (residents’ support), if you have a plan for the area and it’s contiguous (land), they usually look upon you with more favor. And that county endorsement is huge, too,” said Janson.
Jackson said city officials will continue to work with property owners to get them to sign the voluntary annexation paperwork. There is no deadline, she said, but the process is moving forward.
“We need 100 percent to even go to the county and the development board, but we don’t want to push anyone. By no means is this a forced annexation,” said Jackson.
Anyone with questions about the proposed annexation or the process should contact Tiffin City Hall, the mayor or Tiffin City Council members. Residents can call Jackson at 319-545-2572, email firstname.lastname@example.org , or send written correspondence to P.O. Box 259, Tiffin, IA 52340.