New Jackson city limits to be considered in public hearing

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The boundaries of the city of Jackson are changing, and some area residents are unhappy with the way things have been taking shape. What the future holds for the city, local industry and the people of Fruitland will start to become clear at a public hearing Monday night.

Planning to speak are Fruitland residents who think the city has been conniving in its response to their efforts to become an incorporated village and to subsequent annexation requests by heavy industry.

Major new development in the area began last year, when two quarry owners, Heartland Materials and Strack Excavating, began seeking state permits to operate on Cape Girardeau County land and met fierce local opposition.

In December, more than 60 Fruitland residents decided to pursue incorporating Fruitland as a village to create protection for the community, citing reasons such as encroachment and issues related to quarry operations. Unincorporated land in Cape Girardeau County is not governed by zoning laws.

Petitions for annexation, required by the incorporation process, were filed with Jackson and Cape Girardeau, containing clear language stating Fruitland desired independence. Cape Girardeau declined within a month, freeing the area for incorporation. Jackson has not answered and has until Dec. 13, one year from the date the petition was received, to accept or decline.

Should Jackson decide to accept the petition, Fruitland residents plan to oppose it, making it an "involuntary annexation."

By summer, while the quarries were fighting legal battles against new legislation, Fruitland petitioners attended city meetings to express frustration at the lack of action. They underscored their continued hope to incorporate in August by submitting an incorporation petition to the county to take effect upon annexation rejection by Jackson.

The board did not make a formal response, but city administrator Jim Roach said in July that the position of city staff was that the aldermen should move forward with annexing Fruitland, based on interest expressed by some residents.

Public action stalled there until recently, when Jackson received an application for voluntary annexation of a 238-acre tract owned by Heartland Materials, Joe Hoffmeister, Hoffmeister Farms and Hoffmeister Real Estate filed Oct. 5 along with requests to create a heavy industrial zone and grant a special quarry permit.

Fruitland residents feel the Heartland parcel fails to be "contiguous and compact" due to total separation of the land from Jackson by highways and should not be eligible for annexation.

The planning and zoning commission meeting Oct. 12 was the first to address the new applications. Danny Dumey and Steve Obermann of Heartland Materials said the quarry and landowners were seeking voluntary annexation to settle uncertainty surrounding annexation of the Fruitland parcel and to create a formal relationship with the city, emphasizing the investment the quarry has already made in the community.

"We are not asking for a handout, we are looking for you to look at us as a business," Obermann said. "We know that Jackson is business-friendly."

Tim Sutterer spoke for the group of Fruitland residents in attendance and asked that the zoning and permit requests be denied. He said the intention was not to stop the quarry but to protect property value and the community.

"Our intent as a village is to be good neighbors," Sutterer said.

Sutterer also questioned making zoning decisions about land not yet under the jurisdiction of the city.

Planning and zoning tabled the requests. Jackson planning and zoning superintendent Janet Sanders later said that making zoning decisions that are contingent on future growth is a normal part of city planning.

Five days later the voluntary annexation petition was accepted by the board of aldermen and a public hearing was set, as required by law, for Nov. 7.

Roach said in the study session following the board meeting that the city was making progress in completing its response to Fruitland and plan of intent, which will be presented at the Dec. 5 meeting, in time for the Dec. 13 deadline.

Shortly after the first voluntary annexation petition was accepted, three more applications were received, all industrial interests. The four parcels together would add just more than 465 acres to Jackson and all fall within the original Fruitland tract.

The requests of the first voluntary petitioners were approved, pending annexation, at a special planning and zoning meeting Oct. 26. Sanders said the special meeting was necessary so that the applications could be processed in a timely manner, in sequence.

Quarry concerns

Fruitland residents who were originally hoping to incorporate are now scrambling to take actions they believe might preserve their interests. Twelve met Oct. 29 to discuss their concerns.

Numerous residents cited problems with the existing quarry operations, including unexpected and frightening blasting, dust, burn piles that blow smoke into their properties and backup alarm noise from trucks. Residents say it is impossible to know which quarry to hold accountable, since they are so close to each other. They believe the state does not have the capacity to follow up on complaints, are not sure quarry owners will be receptive to their concerns and wonder how Jackson might regulate them.

Dumey has said the Heartland quarry exceeds stringent state standards and is operating responsibly.

"We want to have a cordial, productive conversation," said Abby Petzoldt, whose home is close to the Strack operation.

"Balance, that is what I am looking for, balance," Stan Latimer said. "They have the right to operate a business. We have the right to live the way we want to."

Foremost, the residents think the city has not communicated with them openly and that it is taking steps to maximize financial benefit at the expense of the quality of life of county residents, evidenced by speedy action on the voluntary annexation requests. They think the city is grabbing for industry and ignoring state law and city planning guidelines that should exclude the land.

"They are doing an end run around what we are trying to do," Latimer said. "Their interests are clearly to protect the quarry, not Fruitland."

However, Mayor Barbara Lohr said the city has been open with its intent from the beginning.

"We almost immediately started working on what we would need to do," Lohr said. "Our citizens here in Jackson have mentioned as a priority that we need more business and industry."

Lohr said the matter has been discussed in several public study sessions and that, despite residents' desire to incorporate, Fruitland is a logical progression of growth for Jackson and had to be considered seriously.

"We couldn't say no," Lohr said.

Fruitland residents released an open letter Nov. 3 asking residents of Jackson to appear at the hearing Monday to declare opposition, citing conflict with the city's comprehensive plan that excludes new quarries.

Saxony Lutheran High School has taken another approach. Surrounded by proposed annexation properties, it plans to file a voluntary annexation request of its own Monday in the hope of having a legal voice in the process.

"We have tried to protect the safety, health and livelihood of the school and feel this is the best way to do it," said Jim Maevers, school board president.

When the school might begin to have a say will depend on the order the applications are approved. Technically, if the other interests are approved first, they will become existing industrial zones, which may not be affected by residential or school sites that become part of the city later.

Maevers hopes the city will consider their interests along with the other applicants.

Petzoldt is struggling to remain optimistic.

"It has been amazing to see what dollar signs do to people," she said.

The public hearing on the matter will be at Jackson City Hall at 7 p.m. Monday.

salderman@semissourian.com

388-3648

Pertinent address:

101 Court St., Jackson, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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