The City of Gretna is poised to double in size and add nearly 3,000 people after the Nebraska Supreme Court on Friday sided with the city in an annexation dispute with Sarpy County.
At issue was a 2017 annexation package by Gretna to bring nearly 3,000 acres into the city. The area includes Vala’s Pumpkin Patch, Sapp Bros. and housing subdivisions including Lincoln Place, Willow Park and Standing Stone.
In a lawsuit that has delayed the annexation by nearly four years, the county argued that the annexation wasn’t legal because it included 22 parcels of agricultural land that were “almost exclusively unplatted, with rural roads and no sewer connection,” according to a filing by the state Supreme Court. State law says cities can annex only land that is “urban or suburban in character.”
Last year, a Sarpy County District Court judge sided with the county, accepting its arguments that the contested parcels qualified as agricultural land. The district court found that none of the parcels were currently being developed, and that Gretna’s growth as a city had not trended in the general direction of the areas that Gretna sought to annex, the filing states.
But the high court Friday overturned that decision, ruling that the district court failed to consider future development plans in the annexed areas.
There was “evidence” that development in the area already was underway, the court said, as the contested parcels are located “within the rapidly growing Gretna school district.”
The filing also noted that Gretna’s 2017 comprehensive plan included a proposed Interstate 80 interchange near 192nd Street that is expected to spur future developments, and the existing Highway 370 corridor. Gretna, the county, the state and other governmental agencies all have plans to develop the area.
“These are characteristics ‘belonging to a city’ and not ‘pertaining to the country’ and are accordingly urban or suburban in nature,” the court ruled.
Gretna Mayor Mike Evans said he was pleased with the ruling and excited to welcome a new crop of businesses and residents to Gretna. He said it could take a few months until the area officially is part of the city.
“There’s so much growth there, and it’s been difficult to manage our community without control” of the area, Evans said.
John Reisz, who leads the civil division of the Sarpy County Attorney’s Office, said the county was reviewing the Supreme Court’s ruling to determine its options.
Justice William B. Cassel dissented, writing that a few of the disputed parcels lie in watershed, lack infrastructure, are used for agriculture and remain largely untouched. If any part of a municipal annexation includes agricultural lands, “the entire ordinance must be invalidated,” Cassel wrote.
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