By Mark Fischenich
---- — MANKATO — Picture an area the size of lower North Mankato, and that's roughly the combined size of rural subdivisions in Mankato Township that may be absorbed into Mankato in the next two decades under an annexation agreement between the city and township.
The agreement, already approved by the township board and headed to the Mankato City Council Monday night, could lead to rural subdivisions totaling 437 acres and more than 600 residents to come into the city limits. Two-thirds of each subdivision's property owners would need to agree to the annexation, as would the city and township governments, but Mankato Community Development Director Paul Vogel expects most will make that choice during the 22-year life of the agreement.
"As sewer becomes available, we'll probably get more interest," Vogel said.
The agreement also governs annexation of agricultural land for new subdivisions, but much of the focus of the updating of the 1995 agreement between the city and the township is on the existing rural neighborhoods that border the city but aren't hooked up to city sewer and water.
Some have aging septic systems and local water supply networks that will need substantial upgrades, and residents may see Mankato's municipal water and sewer as a cheaper long-term alternative, Vogel said. Other subdivisions were constructed more recently, and septic system problems might be a decade or two away.
Mankato staff is already in discussions with homeowners in Southview Heights Addition 2 about joining the city and hooking up to city utilities. The neighborhood is off of Stoltzman Road just outside Mankato's southwestern city limits.
Several other nearby subdivisions — Meadow Wood, Woodview Heights, West Sunset, Ballards Oak Ridge Area, Ballard and Corey, and Stoney Creek Estates are also part of "Area 1" in the annexation agreement. Also in "Area 1" is Country Club Estates on the opposite end of Mankato — on the north end adjacent to the Mankato Golf Club.
"Area 1" properties can become part of Mankato if 66 percent of property owners in a subdivision petition to be annexed. "Area 2" properties are the rest of the township, but "Area 2" properties can be annexed if they are surrounded by the city and if both the township board and council approve the annexation.
Other "Area 2" parts of the township will remain under township control, although new rural subdivisions are prohibited.
The agreement also sets an eastern limit to Mankato's future growth. Land east of County Road 86, commonly referred to as the KTOE road, would be reserved for the future expansion of Eagle Lake.
The negotiated pact continues the long tradition of Mankato avoiding contentious disputes with surrounding townships over annexation. The first annexation agreement came in 1995 with Mankato Township, negotiated during Bill Basset's final years as city manager, but it didn't tackle the potentially controversial issue of how to handle existing rural neighborhoods.
Vogel and current City Manager Pat Hentges negotiated agreements in 1997 with Lime Township and in 2006 with South Bend. The Lime Township agreement allows rural subdivisions to be annexed with 50 percent of property owners petitioning. In South Bend, the only urbanized area adjacent to the city is Lehillier, and the city agreed to provide sewer services absent annexation.
"Unlike other areas of the state that have these annexation wars that rage, we have a good relationship with our townships," Vogel said.
Part of the reason that the 1995 agreement with Mankato Township didn't address rural subdivisions was that they were then far from Mankato's city limits. But the city underwent dramatic expansion during the housing boom that began about that time and continued until 2006.
About 1,500 to 1,600 acres of residential subdivisions were added during that boom, spreading the city limits to the south and east and north of Highway 14. With "Area 1" subdivisions reaching all the way to the Indian Lake County Park, the city will sprawl about seven miles from the southwest to the northeast once all the new area is annexed.
The next groups of rural subdivisions are south of County Road 90 and southeast of Mankato toward St. Clair, far enough away that Vogel said they are a distance from the city that they aren't likely to be candidates for annexation until far in the future — sometime after the new annexation agreement expires in 2035.