Top 10 2017: Annexation lawsuit went to the courts


Editor's note: This story is part of a series recapping the top stories of 2017. Read the other top stories here.

Two neighboring communities battled this year in court over land annexed outside River Falls.

The city of River Falls came out on top in a November trial that sought to determine whether an annexed parcel in the town of Troy was close enough to the city without sharing a boundary.

St. Croix County Circuit Court Judge Michael Waterman ruled that the 220-acre Mann Valley property is sufficiently near River Falls after a two-day trial.

The central issue at trial will soon become moot if additional annexation plans are approved. Steps are underway among the city, the River Falls School District and two property owners to annex more land that would bridge the gap between the noncontiguous parcel and the city.

According to a Dec. 12 memo to River Falls City Council, the process began Nov. 29 when the property owners — the school district, along with Dwayne Johnson and the Cernohous & Evan trust — petitioned for annexation of 69 acres.

Council members referred the matter to the River Falls Plan Commission, which will consider plans at its Jan. 2 meeting. The commission will report and possibly recommend action back to the council. A resolution supporting the Plan Commission referral notes that a capital cost and budget study would be waived since there are no current development plans and that the area will remain zoned for agricultural uses.

River Falls City Council could hold its first reading of an annexation ordinance at its Jan. 23 meeting and approve it after a second reading in February, according to a proposed schedule in a memo from Community Development Director Buddy Lucero.

That process follows the contentious court case between the city and town of Troy, which came down to Waterman's interpretation of the word "near." Wisconsin statutes allow for noncontiguous parcels to be annexed, provided they are sufficiently near the city acquiring them.

How near? That's where the judge came in.

Waterman made the call after hearing extensive testimony, including an expert who testified about maps and infrastructure. River Falls City Administrator Scot Simpson also testified, saying the city had been drawing up plans in that area for decades.