Christine and Jared Sachs' farm soon will be in the middle of a city.
The second-generation Empire Sachs Farm is home to sheep, cattle and fields of alfalfa and corn. It's located along a rural stretch in Empire Township, a slow-paced, predominantly agricultural community nestled between the exploding Dakota County suburbs of Lakeville, Rosemount and Farmington.
Becoming a city will help Empire stay that way.
Spanning 33 square miles and lacking a traditional downtown, Empire officially will become a city once a new mayor and city council are sworn in. A special election will be held Tuesday. The transition has been in the works since 2007. A judge signed off on the incorporation this past June.
The decision to incorporate comes as Empire seeks to establish its borders and prevent the annexation of new developments by bordering cities. The move also makes it easier for Empire residents to plan sewage and water infrastructure.
"Do we want to just become Lakeville, Rosemount or Farmington or do we want to maintain autonomy?" Christine Sachs said. It's one of the questions that has driven incorporation talks over the past decade.
The three neighboring cities supported Empire's petition to become a city.
Why do this
Empire's population has doubled in the past two decades to about 3,200. And it is expected to double again the next 20 years as suburban development expands into the area. Empire is projected to have the highest percentage of population growth of any jurisdiction in Dakota County, according to the city's petition to incorporate.
The city government model will be able to more accurately address issues related to larger developments and infrastructure.
Terry Holmes, the township board chair, said with solid borders, surrounding cities will have a clear definition of who is going to take care of what areas.
"Empire could plan for the future," he said. New subdivisions would remain a part of Empire, rather than be annexed to the neighboring cities.
Certain portions of land within Empire's current boundaries are the subject of a 2007 orderly annexation agreement with Farmington. Properties not previously annexed under the designation will be annexed to Farmington once Empire is incorporated.
Will life change?
Three miles from the Sachs on County Highway 66 is Windswept Hill Farm, where the Wustenbergs, a flock of sheep and a pig named Truffle live. Wendy and Bill Wustenberg have called Empire home for 33 years.
"This is an amazing part of the state. We have working farms all over this new city and we have neighborhoods that have been built in the last 10 years," Wustenberg said. "There's a lot of life in this area. Natural and human."
For Empire residents, very little will actually change. Taxes won't increase and mailing addresses will remain the same, township officials have said. For most, life will continue as normal.
"Our life will go on," Wustenberg said. "We will shear sheep and have lambs. And life will stay the same."
About that election
Empire Clerk-Treasurer Charles Seipel-Teng said Empire's city status could be official by the end of the month.
The mayor and four-person city council structure will replace the three person township board. Eric Hanson is the only board member pursuing re-election to the new government structure, running as a city council member.
Three candidates are running for mayor. For the candidates, the future and the preservation of their community is in mind. They are:
For Empire City Council, Marla Vagts and Eric Hanson are running unopposed for four-year terms. Danny Rubio and Tom Kaldunski are running unopposed for two year terms.
A recording of Thursday's candidate forum and other information on Tuesday's election are available on the Empire Community Facebook page.