Solomonic Solutions Scarce in Minnesota Annexation Dispute

Local governments covet their zoning power. For example, when a developer is putting together a big project, towns large and small may vie for a piece of the action.

Such is the case with a dispute over a strip of land along the I-35 corridor near Duluth. No fewer than three local governments want to annex a parcel upon which a big-box retailer purportedly plans to build a store.

The case is an example of the importance of land use and zoning law in Minnesota. It also shows the limits of alternative dispute resolution. When interests are deeply opposed, Solomon-like solutions can be elusive in real estate litigation.

Three-Way Real Estate Dispute

The contested land consists of 65 acres owned by a private developer along Interstate 35 in St. Louis County. Though the land is located in Midway Township, the developer asked the nearby city of Proctor to annex the property. The developer sought the annexation in order to make it easier to use water and other utility services from Proctor.

Neither Midway Township nor the city of Duluth, which also borders the disputed land approved of this proposed action. Duluth officials said the process should be an open one in which all voices were heard. A Midway Township supervisor asserted that the proposed annexation was an attempt to circumvent Midway's zoning process.

Proctor claimed that all appropriate procedures were followed. Its mayor argued that the public meetings were conducted in accordance with guidelines developed by the League of Minnesota Cities.

In April 2012, a St. Louis County judge ordered the three parties to mediate the dispute. The attempt at mediation, however, did not produce an agreement. Resolution of the issue therefore remains with the courts.

The mayor of Proctor has declined to reveal the identity of the big-box retailer until the argument over annexation has been determined.

Similar Issues in the Twin Cities

The attempt at mediation failed. Solomonic solutions are surprisingly scarce when different units of government have different interests. In ancient Israel, King Solomon supposedly settled a dispute over ownership of a baby by threatening to cut it in half. This was, of course, a ploy to get the real mother to identify herself.

Such outside-the-box resolutions are not likely when tax revenues from a big-box retailer are at stake. The same is true in the Twin Cities area when land use issues arise. The Metropolitan Council has many powers to regulate development, but no one will ever confuse it with Solomon.

If you are in a zoning or land use dispute, that is why it is important to discuss your case with a lawyer experienced in real estate litigation.