Wildberry Acres residents refuse to be annexed by Urbana

By Eli Murray

Residents of the Wildberry Acres subdivision, just north of Urbana, approached the city council Monday to speak out against the annexation of their properties into the city limits.

Randy Gustafson, the first to speak, sat before the council in jeans and a denim jacket; his work boots were stained with dried mud. He took in a deep breath and sighed before addressing the council.

“I’m not a public speaker so bear with me on this …(but) I don’t agree. I’m upset,” he said. “The owners of Wildberry Acres subdivision had signed an annexation agreement with the city of Urbana, stating all the lot owners will agree to join in and consent to any petition for annexation of their lot within 30 days of the property becoming contiguous to the Urbana city limits.”

Gustafson said the subdivision became contiguous with the city limits more than 13 years ago but that the city hadn’t petitioned to annex their lots until recently.

“The city had their chance to file a petition and failed to do so,” he said.

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City Attorney James Simon said that the city was pursuing the annexation now because the agreement was approaching the 20-year statute of limitations. After April, he said the agreement would no longer be valid.

Of the six lot owners who received petitions, Sandra Hamilton was the only one to sign the petition for fear of having to pay legal fees if she did not sign within 30 days.

“I pretty much feel like Urbana is just going to get more taxes out of us,” she said. “We don’t have city water, we don’t have (city sewage) … we have septic tanks.” 

Residents pay to maintain their own wells and septic systems, she added.

Gustafson agreed that the city should provide water and sewage to the subdivision if they were to annex it. “When I have those two main services, then I will agree on the annexation agreement,” he said.

Bill Gray, public works director for Urbana, said the average lot would see a tax increase of about $700 a year. He also said the city wasn’t immediately going to be able to offer sewage lines or water to the subdivision because of complications with running the systems across the interstate. However, he said, the city would be extending the police, fire and library districts to include residents of the subdivision, as well as maintaining the road through the subdivision.

Mary Lowry, another resident of the subdivision, said the city wasn’t really bringing anything to the table. She said the county already provided all of those services — aside from access to the libraries, which she already paid an out of district fee for her kids to use — and she was very happy with the quality of the county’s work.

Mike Madigan, Ward 6, said he was sympathetic to their situation.

“This is a property rights issue,” he said. “Right now, we’re not bringing value. We’re just charging $700.” 

He suggested the city look to find a more agreeable solution for the residents and perhaps delay the annexation until the city could offer value to the residents.

Libby Tyler, Urbana’s community development services director, said annexation was necessary for the city to keep growing. Failing to act on the annexation of Wildberry Acres could delay the city’s development plan and set a precedent for other subdivisions to refuse annexation agreements.

Tyler also said it would be a first if the city were to vote “no” to Hamilton’s signed annexation petition.

“She’s petitioning under the threat of legal action,” Madigan said. “She’s not a willing petitioner.”

Ultimately, the council approved a motion, 5-2, to keep the ordinance in committee until Jan. 13, allowing the legal department and community development department to look at the impact of not annexing or signing an alternate agreement.

Eric Jakobsson, Ward 2, and Diane Marlin, Ward 7, were the only council members to oppose the motion.

Jakobsson said he didn’t think the city should try to put off the annexation.

“I voted against the motion because, in my opinion, the annexation is something the city must do,” he said.

He did say he would be willing to reduce the tax imposed on residents for a few years because the city wasn’t in a position to offer them connection to the sewage system yet.

Eli can be reached at [email protected].