In the Spotlight

News & Features
The City of Ventura
by Marisa Helms
January 24, 2000
Click for audio RealAudio 3.0

The township of Saint Augusta, in central Minnesota, wants to become the city of Ventura. The township filed an incorporation request a year ago. But concern over urban sprawl and desire for an increasing tax base have turned Saint Augusta's incorporation request into a complicated political battle.

AS SAINT AUGUSTA'S town clerk, Harlon Jopp, drives to work, he passes familiar landmarks. Saint Augusta is a sizable piece of mostly-agricultural land, six square miles by six square miles, sitting just southwest of Saint Cloud's city limits.

The city of Saint Cloud sees the township as a way to expand its territory and has petitioned to annex 4,200 acres of Saint Augusta as a way to stop the township from incorporating.

Once in his office at the township hall, Jopp explains why most of the 3,000 Saint Augusta residents believe in becoming a city, and staying independent.
Jopp: They see St. Cloud wanting to grow into this area and I think people want to remain independent and have their own form of government locally.
It sounds simple enough. Saint Augusta wants to become a city. The name they've chosen - Ventura - is all right with Governor Jesse Ventura. But there are others who have big problems with this township becoming the city of Ventura. Saint Cloud Mayor Larry Meyer is one of those.

Meyer describes a contentious year of failed negotiations with St. Augusta officials. Now the decision over Saint Augusta's fate rests with the courts. Mayor Meyer says no matter the outcome, the conflict between the township and the city is unfortunate.
Meyer: If Saint Cloud wins, we have created an enemy, and we have people mad at us outside of Saint Cloud. Friends of ours in the Saint Augusta area, I think, will be very upset if we win. And so I see this, and I have from the very beginning, that no matter what happens, we both lose.
This case is getting attention because it could set a course for future development in one of the fastest-growing regions in the state.

DFL Saint Cloud Representative Joe Opatz says if Saint Augusta is allowed to incorporate, farmers will parcel off their land, big companies will be invited to set up shop in Ventura and sprawl will run rampant. He says rapid development could spell disaster for the region.
Opatz: Most of us agree we would like the Saint Cloud community, however we define that, as being separate from the Twin Cities metropolitan area. And the only way we can maintain that separateness is to create and maintain open spaces between them. And Saint Augusta is a part of that open space.
Back in 1997, Opatz and others in the Legislature, who were concerned about sprawl, passed a law called the Community Based Planning Act. The Saint Cloud area was among the first to benefit from the new law. They created a joint planning board to assure that development would benefit all municipalities fairly.

Steve Reckers is strategic planning specialist for Minnesota Planning, the state agency overseeing all the regional planning boards. He says cities, counties and interested parties must work cooperatively to set growth boundaries deciding where growth can and cannot occur. Reckers says once those plans are in place, it will eliminate the annexation versus incorporation battle Saint Augusta and Saint Cloud are now fighting.
Reckers: The other reason for the planning and the identification of urban growth areas is really to provide municipal services to urbanizing areas in the most effective and efficient manner possible.
If you ask Saint Augusta Township Clerk Harlon Jopp about urbanizing and efficient growth, he'll tell you even as a city, there are no immediate plans for major development.

In fact, the City of Ventura wouldn't change much from the Township of Saint Augusta. They would maintain their contracts with neighboring cities, including Saint Cloud, for police, fire, and water services.

The case is now before a Stearns County administrative law judge who has the task of deciding in favor of Saint Cloud or Saint Augusta. Whatever the judge's decision, the matter isn't likely to go away. Each side will have the right to appeal, and keep fighting.