Anoka setting zoning, development rules for vacant land

Anoka is rezoning and setting standards for new development on city-owned land north of the Anoka High School.

The Anoka City Council May 21 got its first look at a proposal to create a B5 Regional Business District that would open this property up for retail and commercial development.

Portions of the nearly 48 acres, currently vacant and leased for farming, are adjacent to the 200 acres protected under a conservation easement, although any new development would not encroach on this nature area.

Once the city land east of the Anoka County Library bordering Seventh Avenue and Bunker Lake Boulevard is rezoned, it will be designated as commercial shopping – a change from its current rural farm status.

This will allow for a variety of new businesses to come into the area, ranging from retail stores to a corporate campus.

The city’s planning commission has been working on the rezoning for nearly a year, falling in line with the city council’s direction to create more opportunities for retail development and more land to the city’s tax rolls.

“There’s no development proposed at this time, we’re simply doing this so we’re ready for development when it occurs,” said Planning Director Carolyn Braun.

Once rezoned, the property will be divided into two segments. The south portion could be used for larger developments like a big box retail store, while development on the northern part of the parcel would be restricted to buildings that are 15,000 square feet or less.

This makes way for smaller retail shops or a corporate campus, said Braun of the northern piece of property, which abuts the conservation area.

Gas stations, auto sales or auto related businesses and free standing fast-food restaurants would not be allowed.

The planning commission included many standards consistent with what is already in place for the Main Street Mixed Use District, including building materials, parking and lighting.


Debate over buffer

Most of the council’s discussion on the new zoning was focused on a recommendation from the commission to have a buffer between the conservation area and any new development of 100 feet for a building and 50 feet for parking.

The commission unanimously approved the rezoning and site development recommendations last month.

Several members of the council disagreed with giving up this much developable property next to an area where the city had already agreed to preserve 200 acres.

“I know you need a buffer, but it seems like in dollars and cents it’s a lot of money we’re giving up for a setback,” said Councilmember Freeburg. “Our parcel of saleable property has just shrunk.”

Mayor Phil Rice agreed, advocating for a much smaller setback of 25 feet between the conservation area and a potential new building.

“I think it is excessive,” said Rice of the recommended 100 foot setback.

Rice said when the city designated the 200-acre parcel to be preserved under a conservancy agreement, it already expanded the original borders to create a natural buffer for the protected property.

“We moved that line of the conservation area out to the edge of the trees rather than using the section line, which at that point created a substantial buffer to the area,” said Rice.

The mayor said he felt a much smaller setback would be a more effective buffer.

“I think that a building closer does protect more than a building farther away, because then you are inviting traffic between the building and the conservation area,” said Rice. “Plus I think that it makes it a more attractive building site if the building can be nearer the conservation site.”

The council unanimously supported Rice’s suggestion of a 25-foot setback for a building or 50 feet for parking.

According to Braun, parking alongside the conservation area must be screened with either vegetation or berming.

“At the end of the day the city of Anoka took 200-plus acres off the tax rolls,” said Freeburg. “I personally want to keep as much back on there as I possibly can and I think that we’ve been generous enough to dedicate 200 acres and to go from 100 feet to 50 feet is not a big compromise. It’s just good business sense.”

The council is expected to finalize these changes at its next meeting on June 4.

Mandy Moran Froemming is at [email protected]