Rick and Nancy Klaus moved to the country to raise horses and two kids on 50 acres of land. It felt safe and peaceful.
In a rural township forbidding such things, they never expected to find themselves 200 feet from an RV park.
“You live in the country because you want to live in the country,” said Nancy Klaus.
But a neighbor with hundreds of acres wants to develop them. And nearby Rosemount, which would get a $30,000 annual windfall, is considering what would amount to, for the township, a hostile takeover.
The big landowner, Tom Furlong Jr., wants to expand his golf course with a campground, complete with spaces for RVs and rental cabanas. On another part of his 450-acre property, he wants to build and sell a dozen townhouses.
“We are aggressive in some of the stuff we do, and we see a potential return on our investment here,” said Furlong. “A campground here would make us a destination golf course.”
But agricultural Nininger Township doesn’t allow for that. So Furlong plans to petition suburban Rosemount, just next door, to annex his land. It’s an unusual move that Rosemount will have to approve — and one that Nininger Township will likely oppose.
At a work session last week, members of Rosemount’s City Council agreed to pursue the annexing of the Furlong land. But the council had questions.
“From a staff perspective, annexation makes sense to the city if there’s a long-term benefit,” said Kim Lindquist, community development director.
That benefit would include part of the taxes the Furlongs pay annually on the $5 million property. It’s home to the 36-hole Emerald Greens Golf Course, the state’s biggest in terms of acreage. Lindquist estimated the city could gain $30,000 or more in taxes.
Even for the city itself, it isn’t a slam dunk. “The huge thing that’s going to hold us up is we have these islands of residents in the center,” said Council Member Mark DeBettignies.
Furlong’s dad, Tom Sr., developed recreational areas long before the family created the golf course 14 years ago. He helped create the Afton Alps ski area in the 1960s. The family has also built and sold houses, including 18 nearby and seven on a street that sits amid their land.
Furlong Jr. calls the proposed 35-acre RV park “phase two for us,” noting there is no other campground near a golf course in the Twin Cities. “It will not be offensive,” he said. “We’re not going back to Woodstock.”
It could bring a 25 percent revenue increase, he said, and add jobs. The business, with 175 to 200 spaces for recreational vehicles, will be “family-orientated,” with no loud music and lights out by 10:30 p.m.
A second project would construct a dozen townhouses a half-mile away, aimed at seniors.
He believes Rosemount could provide better services in the long term — roads, police, fire — than Nininger can.
“I think it would fit in awfully nice [with the city of Rosemount],” he said.
But that’s just what worries his neighbors.
Not in my back yard
Neighbors will be a major hurdle to annexation. They are anxious about higher taxes, traffic, campfire smoke and a rotating cast of loud, unsavory campers.
But their biggest concern? That the change will make the area less country, more suburbia.
“I don’t think there’s any intention to … try to force people to be annexed,” said Lindquist.
But Kent Sulem, an attorney for the Minnesota Association of Townships, noted that whether neighbors approve doesn’t really matter. “That’s a matter of politics,” he said. “[The city] absolutely could do it [anyway].”
Ten neighbors showed up at the work session to learn more. None were enthused. “We are definitely interested in standing up for our rights,” Rick Klaus said.
To proceed, the city wants smaller property owners’ support. Larger plots like the horse farm could probably remain part of Nininger, said Lindquist.
However, neighbors also object to the development itself. With the RV park, “safety is my number one [concern],” Nancy Klaus said, adding that “you don’t know who or what they are.” And they might bring alcohol and loud music, she said.
Retirees Dave and Diane Wilmer have “some very deep reservations about it,” Dave said. Annexation would mean higher taxes. They aren’t crazy about smelling campfires all summer. He worries that if golf course revenue declines, the Furlongs could build tract housing on the land — a fate that has befallen many courses elsewhere.
Bernie Jahnke has 10 acres nearby. “I knew I could wake up to the smell of manure every morning and I love it,” he said of farm life. “If this goes through, I’ll feel like I’m in the middle of town.”
Rosemount plans to do more research to see “if the city even has a valid case,” Lindquist said, and will also contact the township to see if a compromise is possible.
However, the township’s longtime attorney, David Tanner, said Nininger, population 1,000, is unlikely to allow the Furlong projects.
Nininger’s formal plan says the township will “preserve agricultural land and a rural atmosphere,” he said. And there’s “zero” chance the township will hand over land to Rosemount, he said, because it’s already small — only 17 square miles.
That means the case would likely be a contested annexation — the rarer of two kinds. An administrative law judge would have the final say.
While annexing township land isn’t uncommon, only a handful of Minnesota cities have pursued contested annexations in the past six to eight years, said Sulem.
“It’s a fairly unusual strategy,” said Lindquist.
Tanner said annexation doesn’t seem logical. After all, the statutes governing annexation, updated in 2006, say annexed land must “be urban or suburban in character, or about to become so.”
Rosemount’s development, while moving eastward, is still six or seven miles from Furlong property, he said — decades away from being suburban.
Furlong Jr. said many residents opposed to the latest projects were also initially against the golf course, for similar reasons. Yet some now work there.
The family wouldn’t say what they will do if annexation doesn’t work out. “We’re not going to say we’re giving up,” said Furlong Jr. “We’re not going to talk about that unless it falls through.”