Council putting hold on new commercial driveways in Anoka

Anoka has put a moratorium on the construction of all commercial driveways in the city.

That hold could last up to one year, based on the action of the Anoka City Council Oct. 15.

“The process in the ordinance is not clear on construction of a commercial driveway, particularly in absence of construction of a commercial building,” said Planning Director Carolyn Braun.

City staff are asking for time to study this ordinance and bring back suggestions to the council.

But attorney Jim Neilson said the moratorium is directed specifically at his client.

“It’s a bull’s eye specifically to Glenn Sonsteby, nobody else,” said Neilson.

In a Dec. 19, 2011 appeal by Neilson on behalf of Sonsteby, the council upheld a staff decision to deny the request to add a driveway to his Slim’s Motor Clinic property from 41st Avenue in Anoka. While the property is located at 14101 141st Ave. in Andover, the access would be from a city of Anoka street.

The automotive repair shop already has access from Seventh Avenue. Once concrete medians are installed by Anoka County as part of upgrades to the area at Seventh and Bunker Lake Boulevard, traffic coming from Slim’s will lose the ability for a left turn.

According to the recommendation of city staff, the driveway should be denied because the commercial property already has access via Seventh Avenue, the proposed access on 41st avenue presents a safety concern because of its proximity to the intersection with Seventh Avenue and directing commercial traffic through residential neighborhoods would interfere with the safety and convenience of those who live in that neighborhood.

Following the denial, Sonsteby filed a lawsuit against the city claiming the denial was not legal.

The case was dismissed by the court without prejudice earlier this month.

According to Pete Regnier, attorney handing the case on Anoka’s behalf, the city was asking for it to be dismissed because the suit was filed more than 60 days after the decision had been made.

By city ordinance, legal action must be filed within 60 days of when the city or council acts on an issue, said Regnier.

Neilson said his client agreed to the dismissal “with the thought of bringing back to you (the city) the application for a different area for the driveway which is farther to the east than where the original proposal was.”

But under the moratorium, no new commercial driveways could be approved until the hold expires in one year, or until the council acts to lift it.

“The fact that it does state up to one year doesn’t mean it has to take a full year,” said City Manager Tim Cruikshank. “If the work is completed prior to that time action can be taken to end that moratorium.”

Braun said city staff had put the study of this situation on hold during litigation.

According to Neilson, the installation of the new driveway should not have been a zoning issue but should have been handled under public works.

“What you really should do is look at the driveway application that has been submitted and is properly submitted to the public works department, it’s not a zoning ordinance,” said Neilson. “That applies if someone is attempting to get a building permit. There is no building permit being applied for here in the city of Anoka because the building is already constructed and it is in the city of Andover.”

During the moratorium, staff plans to study the city’s code and make suggestions for amendments, which would require approval by the council.

The council is expected to finalize the moratorium with a final reading at its Nov. 5 meeting.

Mandy Moran Froemming is at [email protected]