NORTH LIBERTY– Competing annexation applications between North Liberty and Coralville– now more than three years old– remain on hold, this time at the official request of both cities.
Control over an area east of North Liberty has been in a state of dispute– and therefore, in limbo– since 2006, when the City of Coralville filed an application to annex over 386 acres of land known as the Scanlon Farm, adjacent to North Liberty’s southeastern border. North Liberty filed a competing annexation application on behalf of a group of neighbors who protested Coralville’s non-adjacent application by filing a lawsuit and simultaneously asking to annex into North Liberty instead.
The overlapping annexation applications, and subsequent applications made by each city, were filed with the City Development Board in Des Moines, the state’s governor-appointed entity that approves or denies all municipal annexations. Because of the legal action taken by the neighbors, the City Development Board tabled the applications until the lawsuit was settled.
After two lower court rulings in favor of the neighbors, Coralville’s first annexation request was finally ruled invalid by the Iowa Supreme Court in November, 2009, on the basis that Coralville failed to give the neighbors adequate notice. That ruling left the City Development Board with North Liberty’s October, 2006 application next in line, and technically uncontested.
However, in a Dec. 16, 2009, meeting, the City Development Board informally decided to keep the item tabled, believing the judge’s ruling did not coincide with the board’s current interpretations of Iowa Code Chapter 368 relating to voluntary annexation notices, and the board would therefore have to rewrite a portion of the statute before moving forward with a decision.
City Development Board Director Steve McCann also suggested the two communities return to the table together to talk about a compromise on the remaining three applications.
“We thought it would be appropriate to ask the parties involved what their suggestions are as to how to consider the proposals,” McCann told the board in December. “I know that the two cities are trying to work on some resolution of the dispute between them, so it may work out so we don’t have to take them up again in their current form.”
As it happens, McCann was right.
Though members of the neighborhood group, formally known as the Citizens for Sensible Development (CSD), have been actively encouraging the City Development Board to now consider North Liberty’s first application, officials from the two communities have asked for more time to work together on a plan that would benefit both cities.
North Liberty Mayor Tom Salm sent a letter, dated Feb. 17, to the City Development Board asking to leave North Liberty’s two annexation applications off its future agendas, with the understanding that Coralville will be asking the same.
“We are requesting this delay to allow additional time for our jurisdictions to come to a local solution for the overlapping annexations,” Salm wrote. “At this time, we are uncertain of the timing and outcome of the local discussions, and would appreciate the matter remain on hold until we exhaust these efforts, at which time we will inform the Board of the outcome.”
CSD representatives were disappointed by the move; Bill Oglesby said he and his neighbors aren’t against compromise and they don’t oppose growth, but traffic concerns, safety issues and thoughtful development have been the impetus for their involvement from the beginning. Three years ago, these rural property owners specifically asked to become part of North Liberty– rather than risk being involuntarily annexed into Coralville– because they wanted to be proactive in addressing such issues. Many of the rural Penn Township residents were already active within the North Liberty community, and they viewed North Liberty as responsive to their views.
“We, too, wanted to see this whole area of Penn Township become a better place to live,” said Oglesby, in a telephone interview last week. “As things went along, we were faced with the proposition that we might not be able to join North Liberty in these activities, but might be forced to go into Coralville. Faced with the prospect of annexation to one city or the other, many of us in this area wanted to make our allegiances to North Liberty.”
Douglas Paul, also a spokesperson for CSD, wrote the same in a CSD memo:
“The property owners in the annexation area feel that a voice in local government is extremely important, and that North Liberty officials have demonstrated a willingness to give serious weight to citizen input.”
However, over the last few weeks, as Paul sought to meet with North Liberty council members, Mayor Salm and City Administrator Ryan Heiar to reiterate the neighbors’ desire to join North Liberty, he met instead with reluctance; Paul’s requests for meetings were initially declined or deferred by all but two councilors.
“That’s what we have been concerned about for three years,” Oglesby said. “We don’t seem to have a voice through which we can discuss issues that affect our neighborhood.”
Now, though, it looks as if the neighbors will have at least two more opportunities to make their case themselves; Mayor Salm said a meeting has been arranged, and a presentation by the Citizens for Sensible Development is scheduled on the council’s March 23 meeting agenda.
Oglesby said he understands why the two cities would seek a mutual agreement, but it is crucial for North Liberty to understand the long-term benefits of such an annexation to the city, including the significant increase in the city’s tax base that would be realized by annexing those parcels of land.
“I agree with compromise. I think that’s a good way to get things done, as long as everyone is represented in that compromise,” said Oglesby, “but I don’t know that those of us who are going to be affected by this compromise have any voice at all.”
The North Liberty City Council meets the second and fourth Tuesday of each month, at 7 p.m., at the North Liberty council chambers, 25 W. Cherry Street in North Liberty.