Anoka finalizes development rules for land by high school

Anoka has finalized rezoning of nearly 48 acres north of Anoka High School, setting new standards for new development.

The city has created a new B5 Regional Business District, opening this property up for retail and commercial development. Portions of the 48 acres do border the Anoka Nature Preserve, a 200-acre site protected by a conservation easement.

Getting to the point where this city-owned land could be sold and developed has long been a priority for several city council members.

“This is a big step in the right direction, getting this property in a place where it will be at some point developed,” said Mayor Phil Rice.

Councilmember Mark Freeburg, who has long been calling on the city to be in a position to market the property, agreed.

“I’m excited to have the dilemma of having somebody wanting to put something there and us actually have to talk about it,” said Freeburg. “It will a fun discussion.”

Rezoning divides the property 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 shopper or a corporate campus, said Planning Director Carolyn Braun.

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

The rules include a 25-foot setback for buildings or 50 feet for parking from the boundary of the nature preserve, a significant reduction from the 100-foot setback recommended by the city’s Planning Commission.

The council reduced the setback in order to create a larger parcel for development.

Several members also advocated that putting a building closer to the trees makes for a more appealing environment.

“Anyone that makes the investment there will be making the investment in the kind of property we want to see there,” said Rice after Councilmember Jeff Weaver called for the council to be patient to get the right kind of development on this property.

Weaver also raised a concern about what might happen in the future if a developer comes forward with a use that is not currently allowed.

“What happens someday down the road if this property doesn’t sell in 10 years, what happens if there’s a different staff, a different planning commission and different council and you have somebody who comes in with a different idea we haven’t even thought of,” said Weaver.

According to Braun, at that time the city could reconsider its current zoning ordinance.

“We’ve made it fairly flexible so there are a number of things that could develop, not quite knowing what the market might do,” Braun said.

She said there was plenty of discussion on whether or not to allow housing on the 48 acres being rezoned.

According to Braun, the staff and commission instead chose to keep the residential development to the vacant property west of the Rum River Library.

“However if someone came up with a plan that the city embraced the city would then need to change the ordinance to allow for that,” said Braun on potential uses of the property.

Freeburg said the city is doing what it thinks is best for developing the land right now.

“You do what you can at the time you can do it,” said Freeburg. “If things change and ideas come forward then you change it, you rezone it. Right now we’re doing what we think will work and if it doesn’t 10 years from now then they will rezone it.”

Mandy Moran Froemming is at editor.anokaunion@ecm-inc.com

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