On Earth Day, April 22nd, the Northfield Planning Commission discussed a proposal from the Economic Development Authority to annex 530 acres of prime farmland west of the Municipal Hospital to make room for a future business park. While it should come as no surprise that Northfield is looking to grow, the scale and rapid push for annexation are unsettling.
In all likelihood, this land will not be developed for another five to ten years, so rushing to a decision may endanger Northfield’s wish to become a healthy sustainable community. So far, the Economic Development Authority has attempted to anticipate the economic cost and benefit of the annexation in the Financial Impact Analysis. Unfortunately the city has not considered the environmental and aesthetic impacts of the project. Furthermore, their economic analysis is suspect for leaving out a number of likely expenses.
Though the business park will increase tax revenue, the new businesses will also attract new community members. Increasing population invariably translates into a greater burden on public services, demanding more schools, more electricity, more police, more waste treatment, more water, more health care, more road maintenance, etc. While the Financial Impact Analysis offers some possible numbers on utility and road costs, along with estimates of potential tax income, it fails to mention the broader economic impacts on the community. If we are to seriously consider becoming a sustainable community, economically or environmentally, these externalized costs must be considered.
At the same time, we are missing a discussion of what Northfield stands to lose in the annexation, namely productive farmland and open space. When citizens met last summer to discuss their wishes for Northfield’s new comprehensive plan, they expressed a great interest in maintaining the City’s rural character and open space. Moreover, the City Council approved a set of Development Principles which set a priority for development, favoring both infill and redevelopment of sites currently within city limits above outward expansion.
Consequently, the City of Northfield has a lot of questions to answer before they can move forward and approve the Annexation. For instance, why has this site west of the hospital been prioritized? How is it more economically viable than infill and redevelopment? What are the other potential sites and why have they not been considered? What are the environmental impacts of annexation? How will the city undertake the annexation and meet its other goals of increasing green space, increasing low-income housing, making the community more walkable, connecting Ceder Avenue with Highway 19, and keeping productive farmland in production? Yet, before these questions can be answered, they need to be asked.
Please find time to make it to the Annexation Public Hearing on Tuesday April 29th. The planning commission will be meeting in the City Hall Chambers at 7:00pm.