Andover weighs in on business hour rules

The Andover City Council Oct. 2 defined what it means when it says a business can only have “non-continuous” hours of operation in certain zoning districts.

What it means is a business must close for at least five hours between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m.

Although any city code changes impact a whole community, Walmart was a huge player in the discussion.

Walmart received preliminary plat approval from the council Aug. 21 to construct an approximately 150,000 square-foot store with a general retail area and grocery store on the former Pov’s Sports Bar site at the northwest corner of Bunker Lake Boulevard and Jay Street.

This site is in the general business zoning district. Within this area, Andover does not allow businesses to have “continuous” operation. The devil is always in the details though and the council felt the city code was vague. Theoretically, a business could have closed for an hour and met the city code.

The council’s 4-1 vote, with Councilmember Sheri Bukkila voting no, means that Walmart at this point cannot have the 24-hour store it wants.

This pleased a couple of residents who have been opposed to a new Walmart since hearing a rumor about it after Pov’s closed at the beginning of the year.

Andover residents Laurie Mount and Dawn Schnickels-Johnson came to understand that the council could not simply tell Walmart to go away even though the site is zoned properly and Walmart met city code requirements for number of parking stalls, site setbacks and screening.

However, they knew that Walmart was not guaranteed the 24/7 business model it wants for this location and they made it a point to ask the council to not bend over backwards for the corporate giant.

“I’m pleased,” Mount said. “I think we’ve shown that if you’re concerned about things, you need to speak up.”

Schnickels-Johnson said, “I appreciate that I finally feel the council heard us as residents.”

Dennis Davis, an Andover resident who lives about seven miles northwest of the site along 170th Lane, has been in Walmart at two and three in the morning and does see people picking up items whether it be mothers picking up more liquid Tylenol or diabetic patients who need glucose strips to check on their blood sugar.

Davis is also a health and wellness marketing director for Walmart and his job includes running various pharmacies and vision centers in Walmart locations.

Richard Schneider, a land use attorney representing Walmart, found it unusual that a city’s zoning code would address hours of operation.

“It’s something that struck me as being very unusual and not particularly business friendly,…” Schneider said. “I think it puts the city at a competitive disadvantage in attracting certain businesses.”

Planning commission member Dennis Cleveland said out that Andover contacted 20 metro area communities to see whether they limit retail business hours of operation. Although only Mahtomedi and Richfield utilized the city code to regulate business hours, several cities restricted hours using alternative methods.

For example, Brooklyn Center says hours can be regulated through an agreement with the business developer if it abuts a neighborhood. Forest Lake, Inver Grove Heights, St. Louis Park and Vadnais Heights also allow hours to be restricted through a conditional use permit the business must receive if it is next to a neighborhood.

Walmart representative Erik Miller, vice president/principal of MFRA in Plymouth, told the planning commission Sept. 25 that Walmart met and in some cases exceeded city code requirements when it came to screening the site from neighboring residents.

According to Schneider, there must be a rational basis to allow continuous operation in one area and not another area. He said businesses should be allowed to make their own judgment on what is best for their operations.

Schnickels-Johnson, who lives just a couple blocks away from the proposed Walmart, said there are gas stations that can meet people’s needs in the middle of the night. Target and Festival Foods across the street from the Walmart site are not open 24 hours a day, she said.

“This is fair and the businesses who want to do business in Andover can still operate at a generous profit and employ enough people and at the same time allow us to keep our identity as a bedroom community,” said Andover resident Curtis Jones, who lives just north of the proposed site.

Still some issues

Although the council defining “non-continuous” as well as “continuous” hours of operation lets businesses know what is expected, there are still ways in which Walmart could get a 24-hour store in Andover.

According to Community Development Director David Carlberg, Walmart could request a variance to the city code that states “continuous” operation stores are not allowed in the general business zoning district that the proposed Walmart site is in. The council could also decide to make a zoning amendment and allow these 24/7 businesses in this zoning district.

Both would require a public hearing and notification of residents, according to Carlberg.

Planning commission feels differently

The commission unanimously denied the proposed definitions for continuous and non-continuous hours of operation because it still had many questions on how this could impact other businesses.

Bukkila said that she cares what these seven residents on the commission think, especially when they unanimously deny something.

“If they felt they needed more time, then why not give it to them because I’m not feeling a rush or urgency,” Bukkila said.

Commissioner Valerie Holthus said there are some businesses that are open 24/7, but not staffed all the time. A laundromat would be one example, she said.

Commission chairperson Dean Daninger said that Anytime Fitness is another example. There is an Anytime Fitness in Andover, which is open 24/7 but not staffed overnight, but this is in the neighborhood business zoning district, which allows these 24-hour establishments.

For Councilmember Julie Trude, “open to the public” is a common sense definition to her. Her opinion is a place is open to the public if anybody can walk in. If they need a key to get into a fitness club at night, for example, she does not consider that open to the public.

Carlberg said the commission could be looking at better defining what “open to the public” means. This recommendation body was scheduled to meet Tuesday, Oct. 9 to continue discussing business hours of operation in various zoning district.

Eric Hagen is at [email protected]