NEWMAN - The City Council recently revised policies aimed at smoothing the transition for rural landowners whose properties the city proposes to annex as the initial phase of the its planned Northwest Newman project.

The city is moving forward with the annexation of about 120 acres - the first phase of the planned 360-acre mixed use project that includes commercial zones, a business park, and other amenities located west of Highway 33 and south of Stuhr Road. The initial phase is earmarked primarily for commercial and business park.

While City Manager Michael Holland said that the revisions generally reflect concessions on the city’s part in response to concerns expressed by property owners, those measures did not avoid questions and criticism.

Landowner Sherri Marsigli said that the city’s assurances that it will work with landowners and apply discretion on matters such as granting additional time to replace wells and septic systems after those services become available are appreciated but not clear-cut.

“Verbal assurances are great right now but in five or 10 years somebody will pick this (document) up and say ‘this is what you need to do’,” said Marsigli.

She also questioned whether policies on topics such as keeping livestock would apply to renters.

“Our concern is to protect property owners,” Holland responded, noting that rental properties could be considered a commercial enterprise.

Marsigli also voiced concern that costs normally born by developers could fall to property owners - regardless of whether they wanted to be annexed into the city in the first place.

“(Annexation) is usually driven by a developer who has purchased land and wishes to bring it into the city for development and financial gain,” she stated. “This annexation is being driven by the city of Newman without the express or implied consent of property owners.”

Another area of contention surfaced as well at the mid-August council meeting.

The city is extending a water main through the area as part of an upcoming project, and has reached agreements with a number of property owners which allows them to hook up to the system without paying connection fees.

But Steve Bassett, who shares property interest in the Phase I annexation area with Marsigli, noted that the agreement also stipulates that those property owners will not object to the planned annexation.

“You’re buying votes,” Bassett alleged.

“We are not buying votes,” Holland countered. He said that the city expects to qualify for lower-interest project financing by providing service to those properties.

Ultimately, Holland said, the city took the concerns of property owners to heart and brought revisions to the council which benefit landowners. 

The revisions give property owners more time to connect to city services as they become available, allow livestock owners to reach agreements with the city to replace non-domestic animals which perish, let landowners retain wells for irrigation purposes, permit roosters within certain parameters and extend the period of time a property owner may be reimbursed for any main water or sewer lines they are required to install.

Holland repeatedly emphasized that, while the policies are needed to establish a framework of guidelines, the city has the ability and intent to utilize discretion and flexibility based on case-by-case circumstances.

Council members voted 4-0, with Laroy McDonald absent, to approve the implementation policy revisions.

“I do understand the property owner concerns. I sympathize with you. This annexation has been going on for a long time. It is not a surprise to anybody,” council member Murray Day commented. “It is for the good of the community as a whole. We have made every accommodation that I can possibly see for you to make this as easy a transition for you as possible.”

City officials have emphasized that the project does not compel any property owner to sell or develop their land.

Rather, Holland said, Northwest Newman puts the foundation in place for development as the market and landowner interest dictate.

He said the project will ultimately provide job generation, housing and commercial opportunities for the community while developing well-planned neighborhoods rather than piecemeal subdivisions.

And, Holland added, while the annexation may ultimately mean change for property owners it also promises benefits.

“If this doesn’t go through, who is going to fix Jensen Road? Who is going to remedy some of those constraints that are already out there? This is a project the city is trying to do the appropriate way,” Holland concluded.

Holland said he anticipates the proposed annexation going to the county’s Local Agency Formation Commission, better known as LAFCO, in October.