In a potential blow to Rice County’s efforts to maximize development along its I-35 corridor, Faribault’s City Council has indicated it’s not interested in expanding its city limits or extending city sewer and water north of County Road 9.
At a Tuesday evening work session, councilors instructed city staff to write a formal letter to the county clarifying that while Bridgewater and Forest townships are free to pursue development in areas along the I-35 corridor, it isn’t in the city’s plans.
The county has made significant investments in infrastructure along the corridor with the aim of making it more attractive to business and industry. That includes a recently completed reconstruction of a 2.8-mile stretch of County Road 46, the interstate’s western frontage road. After delays, County Road 76/Baseline Road, which serves as the eastern frontage road is expected to begin a two-year reconstruction project this spring. The county is also backing a revamp of the interchange at County Road 19 and a new interchange at County Road 9.
During public hearings on the county’s Comprehensive Plan, City Planner Dave Wanberg submitted comments to the county expressing concerns about potential development in the area given the difficulty of delivering water and sewer. In general, Wanberg noted that only properties within city limits have enjoyed access to city water and sewer. The council has discussed deviating from that informal rule on a number of occasions, but about 100 households on Roberds Lake’s sewer system remains the only complete example.
The council expressed a willingness to provide water and sewer for the now-stalled Wolf Creek Autobahn project in the proposed development area. Murray cited that as another outlier, a “once in a lifetime project” too large to accommodate within city limits.
In more normal circumstances, city staff would strongly prefer that growth take place in a planned manner within city limits. Still, it’s difficult for the city to say no to expansion, particularly when it’s a big project like the $40 million investment made by Daikin Applied.
While south of County Road 9, Daikin’s new facility sat outside of existing city limits at the time. Though the location may have provided benefits to Daikin such as lower land costs, Murray noted that led to an arduous annexation process.
“It would have been a lot easier if it had been in city limits,” Murray said. “Trying to have orderly development and growth creates a lot less headaches for the city.”
While the Daikin project was eventually made to work, Murray said that the city might need to say “no” at some point if a developer’s demands are simply excessive. However, annexation is likely to continue to be needed due to a shortage of industrial land in city limits.
In its own Comprehensive Plan, the city designated land for future industrial development, which was incorporated into the county’s plan. The southwest part of the city near the I-35/Hwy. 60 interchange is currently its primary focus.
Despite that, much recent development has taken place in the northern part of the city. For shipping purposes, companies like Daikin, SageGlass and Trystar could benefit from a long-proposed I-35/Hwy. 9 interchange, which is backed by state Sen. John Jasinski and seems to be gaining momentum at the capitol.
As Murray has noted, the potential interchange would also ease traffic issues significantly at the city’s busiest intersection. In 2018, the intersection of I-35 and Hwy. 21 was traveled by 14,000 vehicles per day, and that number has continued to rise.
City staff have shifted its development focus away from north Faribault in part due to its wetlands, steep hills, utilities and other “encumbrances.” However, the interchange along with a proposed revamp of the I-35/Highway 19 interchange near Northfield could boost businesses along the county’s development corridor.
Community and Economic Development Director Deanna Kuennen worried that unless the city were to provide clarity, some businesses could make plans to build in the county’s development area contingent on access to city water and sewer.
“A prospect doesn’t pay much attention to incorporated boundaries,” she said. “They see our map, but then they see the other map with the entire corridor… and then the city gets pulled into a discussion where the company will walk (away) if you don’t extend (water and sewer).”
Faribault isn’t the only local government entity which has raised concerns about the county’s proposed development corridor. Wanberg noted that Forest Township also submitted several comments raising concerns about the potential for rapid industrial growth on its land. The Northfield City Council has also come out against development in that area.
On the other hand, Bridgewater Township has embraced potential development, highlighting land in its southwest corner that would be in close proximity to a future I-35/Hwy. 9 interchange for potential development.
Glen Castore, chair of the Township’s Board of Supervisors, has long said that the area is ideal for industrial development not only due to its proximity to I-35, but because it contains a railroad and gravel pit — not territory suitable for farming. While a specific area has not yet been identified for the development, area landowners have been approached by several interested developers, and recent talks with one in particular suggest that if the area is rezoned, potential development could move along quickly.
Castore isn’t surprised by the city’s position, and sees it as wise. He said Bridgewater’s board has always been clear that city water and sewer are not likely to be available for a developer, even turning away a potential developer that would have needed the services.
County Board of Commissioners Chair Jeff Docken also wasn’t surprised by the city’s position. Though the decision to market the I-35 corridor for development was made before his time on the board, Docken said that as far as he knows the expectation has typically been that potential developments would need to have on-site water and sewer.
“It’s certainly understandable that they don’t want to extend services beyond their city limits,” he said. “They have properties that are developable even within annexed city limits, so it’s logical to ask why they would extend services if they’re not going to get the tax base.”