County, landowners question legality of Fruitland boundaries

Friday, March 9, 2012
The highlighted area shows the boundary of the proposed area for incorporation.

Editor's note: This is the first in a series of stories about each of the three "points of contention" outlined by Cape Girardeau County in response to Fruitland's bid to incorporate as a village and concerns the land included in the proposal.

CORRECTION: The original map that ran with the story had incorrect boundaries. The map has now been corrected, as has the description of those boundaries within the story.

Cape Girardeau County and residents within the proposed Fruitland village disagree about whether certain properties within the incorporation boundaries can be included according to state law. Some landowners included in the perimeter simply aren't interested in joining an incorporated Fruitland.

In a letter dated Feb. 23, the county responded to a petition filed last August signed by 238 taxable inhabitants of the potential village. Three major concerns were identified -- the land included in and excluded from the parcel, the village's financial plan and the services that would be furnished to residents.

Presiding Commissioner Clint Tracy said Thursday there were several issues pertaining to the land that the county would like to see addressed by petitioners before they could be allowed to incorporate.

First, the village includes a large amount of what Tracy considers to be agricultural land. Legal study of incorporation statues by the county has led officials to the conclusion that those tracts cannot be included as part of a village. They would like to see the boundaries redrawn to exclude agricultural areas.

According to an incorporation handbook published by the University of Missouri-Columbia, the state statutes governing incorporation don't explicitly have a "no agricultural land" requirement, but the Missouri Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld that any area to be incorporated must be of "urban character." In other words, it says the county court has no authority to incorporate any area that is not an urban community.

The proposed village is generally bound by Interstate 55, Route FF, County Road 54 and routes W and Y, covering 1,664 acres. To the south, there are large rural areas. Most of the population is clustered toward the northernmost border, where it meets the historical footprint of Fruitland.

Records indicate that the county court approved a survey map for what was referred to as the village of Fruitland on July 11, 1910. That area almost entirely lies outside the proposed village -- much of it just north of the new boundaries that have been put forward -- and the county asked the petitioners to explain their rationale for excluding it.

After the county released the letter, Tim Sutterer, who delivered the original incorporation petition to the county, said residents planning the village initially drew a rough rectangle centering on the growing areas of Fruitland. Legal counsel advised using existing natural boundaries instead of picking and choosing landowners, leading to extending the edges of that shape to the surrounding highways.

However, Tracy thinks the proposed boundaries have "exceeded the area of growth" and that actual growth over the last 100 years has been concentrated in a much smaller area.

Furthermore, the county has received calls and letters from landowners who don't want any part of the village. Tracy said some have told him they misunderstood the purpose of the original petition.

One letter received by the county Feb. 26 said, "Since we moved to our home in Fruitland almost 27 years ago we have enjoyed the rural lifestyle, with lesser amounts of rules and regulations and lower taxes. We feel incorporation would potentially erase these benefits and urge you to vote against incorporation."

Strack Excavating and Heartland Materials each own a quarry within the village boundaries. Each met heavy opposition from nearby residents when attempting to gain state and federal permits to operate. An attempt to join the city of Jackson by Heartland Materials was shot down at the ballot in February. Both have written to the county in opposition to being included in the incorporated area and have challenged the inclusion of their land, which they contend is not urban.

"I have no opposition to the village of Fruitland," said J.W. Strack, of Strack Excavating, Thursday afternoon. However, he feels his quarry does not meet the required criteria and that forcing it into the village would be illegal. He also questions why "more than three-quarters" of the Fruitland area population was not included in the proposal.

Strack said he applauds the consideration the commissioners are showing in making their decision. "They hit everything on the head," he said.

Tommy Petzoldt, who is in support of creating the village, said Thursday afternoon that petitioners are holding discussions about how to formally respond to the commissioners' questions and concerns.

Overall, Tracy said, county officials are obliged to fairly represent residents on both sides of the matter in making a final decision to approve or deny incorporation.

"What is easy as far as boundaries doesn't always mean it's equitable to all included," Tracy said. "The better plan you can make from the beginning ensures more of a successful outcome in the end."

salderman@semissourian.com

388-3648

Pertinent address:

Fruitland, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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