Land request highlights urban-exurban dividing line

Princeton city council chair Greg Anderson wants to have his agricultural land, which is currently part of the city of Princeton, detached and returned to Princeton Township.

The case is fascinating for the light it sheds on how cities have to take care on questions of land use, taxes and permitted activities when the economy delivers a curve ball. What once seemed a perfectly normal annexation into the city now isn’t so clear. It also could be a bellwether for how Princeton might respond if parts of Baldwin Township that had been annexed seek to rejoin the township.

It’s food for thought for exurban Baldwin residents as questions of annexation continue to arise in the years to come.

According to a recent Princeton Union Eagle article, Anderson’s land was originally annexed into Princeton when former owners were planning a housing development. As the housing bust descended, plans dissolved, yet the land remained part of the city. Anderson, who has kept the land agricultural, is seeking to return to Princeton Township primarily for tax purposes.

But he is also seeking to be able to use his land in the way he could if it were governed by township ordinances instead of the stricter ordinances of the city. He wants to be able to have a wood-burning stove, hunt on the land and carry out such farming practices as having a feed lot.

Princeton is offering compromise after compromise to try to keep Anderson’s land within the city. The city created an ordinance that allows for wood-burning stoves on agricultural land and officials are working on one that would allow hunting on certain properties, including Anderson’s. The farm practices he’s seeking to carry out on his land would also be permitted within city limits.

But one big issue remaining is that Anderson doesn’t feel the amount of tax he pays is commensurate with the city services he receives. In response to this, Princeton is considering a Rural Tax District ordinance, which would lower the taxes on agricultural land, phasing it in over time as city services are added.

This would apply to many more parcels than Anderson’s, so the city is considering it carefully. While creating a Rural Tax District ordinance would temporarily lower the taxes the city brings in, it would allow them to continue sewer and water main expansions already planned. In the alternative, if residents like Anderson begin detaching land and cutting the city’s tax revenue, Princeton may have to reconsider some of its utility plans.

In the end, the decision to detach the land is not the city’s to make. It’s a legal matter decided by an administrative law judge. But the process is significantly easier if both parties (the land owner and city) agree.

Anderson and the city will seek mediation next to see if they can come to a resolution. If they cannot and Anderson decides to file a petition for detachment, a hearing will be held to decide the fate of the land.

A few of the main factors a judge uses to decide if detachment is warranted are whether the land is developed or rural in nature, whether the land is needed for reasonable future development, and whether the land affects the symmetry of the city.

  • Tony

    This agricultural land was annexed into the city of Princeton from Princeton Township about five years ago. The city at that time had no concern for the townships tax base and took this property with no compensation to the township. Now Mr. Anderson is seeking to remove a small protion of the total annexed land back to Princeton Township. This said property is on the furthest west edge of the city of Princeton and should cause the immediate residents of the city of Princeton no hardship.

    Myself as well as many others are in total support of Mr. Andersons request.