Andover lowers park dedication fees

by Eric Hagen
Staff Writer

To plan for the future of its parks system and to know how much money developers should be contributing, the Andover City Council asked city staff and the Parks and Recreation Commission to update a parks dedication fee study.

John Beck walks his wife’s dog Belle on a path in Kelsey Round Lake Park on a seasonably warm afternoon Jan. 10. Photo by Eric Hagen

Andover’s park budget does not eat up many dollars when it comes to capital improvement projects. Only 4.13 percent of Andover’s 2012 capital improvement plan (CIP) expenditures of $6.4 million are related to parks projects. Breaking it down further shows that 2.88 percent of expenditures are for parks maintenance, which includes repairing or replacing playground equipment, and 1.25 percent are for parks projects.

The Andover parks dedication fee study was first conducted by a hired consultant in 2002 and last reviewed in 2005, according to Assistant City Engineer Todd Haas, who led the update review this time around.

“It’s important to stay on top of this and not sit for too many years in a row on the same price,” said Mayor Mike Gamache.

Research showed the city could charge a lower park dedication fee for commercial, industrial and residential developers, approved unanimously by the council last month.

The city used to charge residential developers $2,944 per housing unit, but will drop the fee to $2,650. The commercial and industrial builders paid either $8,984 per acre or 10 percent of the value of the land depending on which value was lower. The new dollar amounts are $7,950 per acre or 10 percent of the land value.

Although Andover analyzed park dedication fees charged in 2010 from other communities around the metro area, Haas said this did not play a role in determining how much it would charge. Andover charged more than Blaine and Coon Rapids for commercial, industrial and residential park dedication fees, but charged less than other cities like Eden Prairie and Maple Grove.

“You’ve got to be able to prove and show that this park dedication fee is based on the improvements you need to make and will take care of those improvements overall for the ultimate build-out of the city,” Haas said. “You can’t just arbitrarily pick a number.”

Haas said the park dedication fee was able to decrease because of all the development in the 2000s. There was more money available to build parks, but development occurred at a quicker rate than the park system.

In 2002, the city was 56 percent developed based on its comprehensive plan at the time, which went to 2020. The existing development had already paid for 63 percent of the total planned park system. In 2010, the city was about 72 percent developed, but the parks system had only increased to 65 percent of the total planned park system.

Gamache said there was discussion to drop the park dedication fee even further, but Councilmember Julie Trude stated during a joint council-commission meeting Nov. 29, 2011 that an additional $75,000 should go into the park fund to better prepare for future projects.

The study only focused on the development of new parks or purchasing new park equipment because this is what park dedication dollars from developers must be used for. This money cannot be used to repair or replace equipment already in place.

Andover parks doing well

During the park dedication review city staff discovered the variety and number of facilities provided meet guidelines set by the Metropolitan Council and the National Recreation and Parks Association. Andover has 67 parks, not including facilities like the Andover Station North ball fields and the outdoor hockey rinks by city hall.

John Beck has lived in Andover for over 20 years. His children used playground equipment in city parks when they were younger, but they mostly were on the athletic fields because they were involved in softball and volleyball.

Beck enjoyed the beautiful weather Jan. 10 by taking his wife’s dog Belle for a walk in Kelsey Round Lake Park.

“I like the parks. There are a lot of good parks (in Andover),” Beck said.

The biggest issue for Andover, according to Haas and Ted Butler, the chairperson of the Andover Parks and Recreation Commission, is community play fields space. The play fields are heavily used by the sports associations, so the city formed a task force of nine people to consider whether Andover should have an artificial turf field at a city park or whether a sports dome could be constructed.

Another issue city staff wants to track is the number of small parks in the community that have playground equipment, which the city refers to as “tot lots”, which city staff report are expensive to maintain.

“The city may choose to limit further acquisition of small park sites within the community in favor of larger neighborhood parks or community play fields,” according to the report.

Butler said decisions made in the past put parks in areas where they were not needed. He does not necessarily think there are too many tot lots in Andover, but they need to be distributed better throughout the city.

Areas that are still developing or will develop will need parks as people move to those neighborhoods, he said.

It does not appear that the demand for parks in Andover will subside soon, reports the study.

According to the 2010 Census, 57.8 percent of Andover’s population is between the ages of five and 44. About 14.3 percent of the total population is younger than 10 years old.

“The Census figures indicate that the community has a large population of young active residents who typically generate park and recreation demands on the community,” the report states.

To get a better grasp on where the park system is now and how it could further develop, Haas said he and the city’s park supervisor Kevin Starr discussed potential equipment needs in certain areas of the city. Once this preliminary list was developed, the commission refined the list over a five- to six-month period.  The council added some suggestions during the Nov. 29, 2011 joint meeting before the planning list was complete.

Once a park is ready to be redeveloped or developed, Haas said the city’s new practice will be to have an online survey of neighborhood residents. Butler said they want to hear from neighborhood families with kids who would use playground equipment or athletic facilities, but they also want to hear from those who do not have children.

Eric Hagen is at [email protected]