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Lines drawn in the sand

At the moment, the city of Horace doesn't need 3,000 acres of land for growth, Mayor John Goerger said. Fargo doesn't need another 795 acres of land right now, either, Mayor Bruce Furness said. Both leaders say the latest round of annexations isn...

Proposed annexation

At the moment, the city of Horace doesn't need 3,000 acres of land for growth, Mayor John Goerger said.

Fargo doesn't need another 795 acres of land right now, either, Mayor Bruce Furness said.

Both leaders say the latest round of annexations isn't about needing the land now.

It's about protecting it for later.

The Horace City Council voted May 1 to bring nearly 5 square miles of surrounding land into city limits. If successful, the city will more than double in size.


According to a list compiled by Horace City Attorney Jonathan Garaas, petitions were secured from landowners owning more than 80 percent of the assessed value of the proposed annexation area. That means it's unlikely that 25 percent will file a written objection that would trigger mediation, Garaas said in a letter to the Horace City Council.

A surprised Fargo City Commission reacted Monday by voting to annex 795 acres east of Horace. The land includes a 200-foot-wide strip along 57th Street South that essentially prevents Horace from annexing more land to the east between 52nd Avenue and 112th Avenue.

The two cities - already embroiled in mediation over who should get two sections of land between Horace and West Fargo - need to stop fighting each other over future growth, Goerger said.

"There's no reason we should be spending the taxpayers' money on this, when most situations you can figure out if you sit down and talk about it," he said.

Furness agreed, saying he's willing to discuss the issue.

"We're in this situation now where everybody's trying to protect themselves," he said.

But don't expect either city to give up ground easily.

Former Horace mayor Don Goerger, John's father, who led the drive to ask landowners to petition Horace for annexation, said Horace must grow or risk being gobbled up by Fargo.


"We feel if Fargo wants to grow, Interstate 29 goes all the way to the South Dakota border. Have at it," he said.

Fargo officials would like to make the city more square by growing west as well as north and south. A city that's too long and narrow requires expensive satellite facilities, leads to more traffic congestion and increases the cost of pumping water across the Red River Valley's flat land, City Administrator Pat Zavoral said.

Fargo officials now say the city's best chance of westerly growth is Stanley Township Sections 5 and 6, the subject of the mediation between Horace and Fargo.

Fargo city commissioners voted in January 2003 to annex the land by resolution, but more than 25 percent of the landowners protested the annexation, sending it to mediation and, if necessary, a hearing before an administrative law judge.

Before mediation began, Horace sued Fargo, disputing the annexation because it was connected to land that Horace said was invalidly annexed by Fargo due to an inaccurate map. A district court judge agreed, but the North Dakota Supreme Court reversed the decision, sending the matter back to mediation.

The Bismarck attorney appointed to mediate the case, David E. Reich, was appointed a district court judge last month by Gov. John Hoeven, so Fargo and Horace are now waiting for a new mediator.

As for Horace's latest annexation, it's not in Fargo's 4-mile extraterritorial area, "so we don't have a right to protest, other than a moral argument," Assistant Fargo City Attorney Erik Johnson said.

That moral argument hinges on whether a city the size of Horace, with slightly more than 1,000 people, has the ability to provide city services for the nearly 5 square miles of land being annexed.


When that land is brought into city limits, which could happen within the next two months, the city has the legal authority - but not the obligation - to extend city services, such as sewer and garbage, to its new residents.

Current mayor Goerger said Horace is prepared to meet the needs of its new residents if they request city services.

But for some landowners who petitioned to be part of Horace, the selling point was that they will be left alone.

Dennis Holmen, who farms the land his great-grandfather homesteaded near Horace in 1873, said landowners are concerned their taxes will jump if Fargo annexes them.

"Horace isn't forcing anything on us," said Holmen, who owns about 600 acres of farmland in the proposed annexation area. "If we don't want services, we don't get them."

John Leseth, whose family owns about 790 of the roughly 3,000 acres in the proposed annexation area, said he doesn't necessarily want the land to be part of Horace.

"But if Fargo is going to keep pushing, bullying everybody around, forcing the issue, then everybody will go to Horace instead," said Leseth, who lives and farms in rural Moorhead.

Holmen said he wishes Horace, Fargo and West Fargo would come up with a growth plan acceptable to everyone.


"It's gotten to be right now where nobody trusts anybody," he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528

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