Maplewood residents want their homes annexed to North St. Paul


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Issue could create inter-governmental tensions

In an unusual step, the owners of two Maplewood properties submitted a petition last week to the North St. Paul City Council asking for the council’s support for annexation.

Laurie Ehlers-Johnson and Dave Johnson, 2587 Lydia Ave. E, and Roxanne and Anthony Berwald, 2573 Lydia Ave. E, want to detach their residential properties from the city of Maplewood and become part of North St. Paul.

They say that although they reside in Maplewood, the majority of their utilities — water, sewer and electrical power — come from North St. Paul. Their main concern, however, is the amount of time it takes for emergency services to reach their homes, which are north of Silver Lake and west of Joy Park.

The petition submitted by the Johnsons and Berwalds states the two families are “at an extreme disadvantage for emergency services provided by the city of Maplewood.”

The petition states that “Fire and Advance Life Support Rescue from the city of Maplewood is over 6 miles away and police services are at a greater distance away. North St. Paul Police, Fire and Advance Life Support Rescue is only 1.6 miles away.”

Per state law, in order to be considered for annexation, a property must abut the other city’s boundary and a petition from the property owner(s) must have the support of one of the cities in question.

The Johnsons and Berwalds first took their concerns to the Maplewood City Council, which has held “many discussions” on the matter in the past year, according to city manager Chuck Ahl. The issue was most recently discussed at the Feb. 25 Maplewood council meeting.

“The staff and attorney recommendations were to not consider allowing the annexation due to the impact and expense that would be incurred on the remainder of the citizens of Maplewood should the annexation be allowed to proceed,” Ahl explained. “The council heard those recommendations and...determined that they do not wish to consider the issue further.”

Undeterred, the Johnsons and Berwalds brought their petition to North St. Paul, hoping for a more affirmative response.

A much-discussed issue

The annexation petition first came to the attention of North St. Paul at the June 12 planning commission meeting. At that time, staff recommended denying the request, and the commission debated the petition at length. Ultimately, the commission moved to forward the item to city council with no recommendation.

At the June 18 city council meeting, North St. Paul officials deliberated on the cost impacts to the city, whether or not the properties abut North St. Paul city limits and what the effects the annexation might have on the working relationship between the two cities.

Council members Scott Thorsen and Jan Walczak were among the more vocal supporters of the annexation, while Mayor Mike Kuehn expressed reservations about the move.

“One of their reasons for wanting to come into North St. Paul is that they think they could be provided with better public safety services because our departments are closer to them,” Kuehn said in a later interview. “That makes me nervous because we can’t necessarily assure them that we could respond any faster than Maplewood in an emergency situation.

“If the (annexation) situation were opposite, with some of our residents wanting to go to Maplewood, I think we would feel pretty offended. This could also set a dangerous precedent,” he added.

Thorsen, however, says he was in support of the petition because he wanted to help the property owners “get an answer.”

“They’ve been bouncing back and forth for years without a decision, and we’re involved because they’re hoping to come into our city,” he said in an interview. “They’ve been getting this back-and-forth for a long time.”

Thorsen explained that in 1999, several properties on Lydia Avenue petitioned Maplewood to be annexed into North St. Paul. At the time, the city council was in favor of allowing the annexation if all 26 properties in the neighborhood agreed. However, two properties said no and the petition fell through.

The Johnsons and Berwalds brought another petition to the Maplewood council in 2011, and were not successful in convincing city officials to allow the annexation.

3-2 vote passes the resolution

North St. Paul city staff presented a resolution to accept the annexation petition at the July 2 city council meeting, and after another lengthy discussion, Kuehn was able to sway council member Terry Furlong’s opinion on the matter.

“I just thought it was more of a city issue. ... I thought it should have been dealt with in Maplewood (because) they’re Maplewood residents,” Furlong explained in an interview with the Review.

However, the extra vote was not enough to deny the resolution. The North St. Paul council voted to approve the resolution 3-2 with Furlong and Kuehn dissenting.

Kuehn presented a minority report expressing his concerns and asked that it be included with the resolution, but the council majority rejected it. Although the measure failed, Kuehn said he would remain a stalwart opponent of the annexation request and explain his arguments to the Municipal Boundary Adjustment Unit.

“What I plan on doing, as a citizen of North St. Paul and as the mayor, is submitting a letter to the board stating my concerns about the annexation,” he explained.

Plans to develop wetlands?

At a special meeting held the same night as the regular session July 2, Kuehn brought up the issue once more, stating he had heard that the Johnsons wanted to divide their 3.06-acre property, which is surrounded on three sides by marshes, into two parcels, and develop the second one.

Maplewood’s wetland buffer requirements are stricter than North St. Paul’s, and by being annexed, the buffer zone could be bypassed in favor of development.

However, Dave Johnson refuted Kuehn’s statement, saying that it was a “rumor” and that he has never planned on splitting the property. However, he did admit that developers had approached him with the proposition in the past.

City attorney Joel Jamnik offered his counsel on the matter, saying that a request for a parcel division could be denied in the future, but it was too soon to act on how the property could be used, since no such request had been made.

Moving forward

The Municipal Boundary Adjustment Unit, after receiving information and testimony from both sides, will ultimately decide whether or not the annexation is justified. The Johnsons and Berwalds have reportedly offered to take on any legal fees the city of North St. Paul might incur by supporting the annexation, which may have helped council members make their decision.

It’s unclear how relations between North St. Paul and Maplewood will be affected by the clash of opinions on the annexation petition. The Maplewood city council has made it clear that it does not agree the petition, and may choose to dispute the annexation at a MBAU hearing in the future.

The city of Maplewood has not yet made a decision on its next move, city manager Ahl said.

“At this point, we have not determined whether an action by the city council is necessary, as we have not received a request from North St. Paul to consider the (latest annexation) request,” Ahl explained.

North St. Paul hopes to remain neutral

While the issue may cause some tangles down the road with Maplewood, both Thorsen and council member Candy Petersen emphasized that although North St. Paul passed the resolution to accept and adopt the petition, its official stance will be neutral on the matter.

“We have the option of opting out of the hearing process,” Thorsen said. “Our resolution was simply to get the ball rolling. A decision needed to be made.”

Petersen echoed Thorsen’s sentiments. “I feel it’s the right thing to do to give those people their day in court. I do think we can service them better and quicker with our emergency and police. We did not go after them, and we will have nothing to do with it (moving forward).”

Kuehn expressed his doubts about the city being able to “opt out” of the hearing process, saying that if the board requests more information, the city would be obligated to provide it.

“The official position of the council is that we’re neutral, but the board may say ‘We need some more information,’ and we may have to provide more information and details,” he said.

“It’s a complex issue,” he added. “(And) it’s not the best for inter-governmental relations.”

Johanna Holub can be reached at jholub@lillienews.com.

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