JOHNSON COUNTY– The City of Coralville lost the first round in a much-disputed annexation case filed by rural Johnson County residents.
Judge Douglas S. Russell of Iowa’s Sixth Judicial District Court ruled Tuesday, Jan. 27, that the City of Coralville failed to follow the procedures required by Iowa Code to give adjacent residents proper notice in the annexation proceedings of 386.9 acres of land near the east edge of North Liberty, known as Scanlon Farms.
According to Russell’s ruling, Iowa Code Section 368 provides for a copy of the application to be mailed by certified mail to non-consenting property owners at least 14 business days prior to any action taken by the city council. Russell ordered the City of Coralville’s proceedings on the annexation application annulled because they did not give such notice.
Coralville proposed to annex a portion of North Liberty Road to connect to the Scanlon Farm, but failed to notify residents who live along that roadway prior to the city council’s approval of the annexation application on Oct. 24, 2006. Nine of those residents, together with a resident group organized as Citizens for Sensible Development, filed a complaint against the City of Coralville, stating the Scanlon area did not adjoin the Coralville City limits, and that it was impermissible to tie the property to Coralville with a strip of road right-of-way, calling it a “shoestring” annexation. The plaintiffs also claimed development plans for the area would create too dense a population and impact properties, traffic and safety.
At the same time, 17 property owners filed a voluntary annexation request to join the City of North Liberty. North Liberty then filed an application request of its own with the state’s City Development Board, requesting an area of approximately 1,000 acres be brought into North Liberty’s city limits.
The City Development Board in Des Moines placed both annexation applications on hold until the court case was decided.
However, the court’s ruling last week will not likely open the door to North Liberty’s annexation proposal with the City Development Board.
Coralville City Administrator Kelly Hayworth said last week Coralville will likely appeal the judge’s decision.
“We are still in discussion with our legal counsel,” said Hayworth, “but we believe we will file an appeal.”
Hayworth said the city’s position is based on a long-standing precedent that notice to residents is not required when the area proposed for annexation is a roadway. The plaintiffs in the case are not owners of the public street and were not entitled to notice, claimed the City of Coralville. Also, Coralville claimed the court should not have jurisdiction in the matter because it was already before an administrative agency– the City Development Board– which did have authority to decide whether proper notice was given.
“We had discussions with the City Development Board, and they stated they have never seen a notice go out for roadway purposes,” said Hayworth.
Coralville’s pending appeal puts the matter back into court and North Liberty’s annexation request back on ice.
Coralville City Attorney Kevin Olson said he will ask the Coralville City Council to authorize the filing of an appeal with the Iowa Court of Appeals. Coralville has 60 days to file an appeal, and it could take between six months to two years for the matter to move through the appellate court system.
That’s why Citizens for Sensible Development Board President Douglas Paul said, “we are not planning any celebrations at the moment,” regarding Judge Russell’s decision.
“We feel this is a very positive ruling for the people who live in the North Corridor,” said Paul, “but it’s not a terminal event. It’s just a step in the process.”
In Paul’s opinion, it’s Coralville’s attempt to buy some time, perhaps hoping for North Liberty to withdraw its conflicting application.
“This ruling reflects the Iowa law very clearly; neighbors of an annexation deserve notification before annexation goes to the city council,” said Paul. “The people who live here should have some self-determination about which city they eventually join.”
Paul said he wasn’t surprised that Coralville would file an appeal, suggesting the Citizens for Sensible Development would have probably done the same, given the significance of the eventual outcome.
“For the future of North Liberty, for the vision of what this city can become, this is an important project. It may not be on their five-year or 10-year plan, but this annexation will change what North Liberty can become.”