The city of Andover is once again targeting a 40-acre parcel east of Hanson Boulevard and about one mile north of 161st Avenue for open space preservation.
The Andover City Council May 7 unanimously approved a $300,000 offer to Hazel Blanchette and James Selmer. City Administrator Jim Dickinson said a purchase agreement is still being drafted.
Mayor Mike Gamache said this was the best property that the Open Space Advisory Commission has been looking at.
“Saving the open space and saving it at a good price I think is the vital aspect of this program and it’s been successful,” Gamache said.
Although the property is landlocked, Dickinson said the $2 million open space referendum voters approved in 2006 was about preservation and not access. The city has been approached by half-a-dozen residential developers over the past month looking for land throughout the community, according to Community Development Director David Carlberg.
At a recent council workshop, City Engineer and Public Works Director David Berkowitz showed that over 100 more homes than anticipated by the city’s 2003 comprehensive plan could be developed in this general area north of 161st Avenue, near the Country Oaks West and White Pine Wilderness developments. Berkowitz said the Metropolitan Council would have to approve a comprehensive plan amendment before any sewer and water extension could occur, however.
Gamache anticipated it would have been taken longer to develop homes this far north of 161st Avenue, but things can change in a hurry. He recalled that some snowmobilers in the mid-1990s wondered how they would get to Pov’s Sports Bar when the city started eliminating snowmobile routes in southern Andover. This area has obviously changed a lot in the last 15 or so years.
The city last fall made tentative offers to Selmer and Blanchette for their 40-acre parcel as well as Dennis Kuiken for 10 additional acres to the north and Douglas and Joann Lawrence for a road easement from Hanson Boulevard. The city cancelled the offers after the New Year when it was determined that the access road through a wetland could have cost approximately $200,000.
There will be an alternative route for a maintenance vehicle road, but the general public will have to wait for land to the east or north to develop.
Open spaces have never been viewed as high foot traffic parks. The focus has been on maintenance. The city received a $20,000 grant from Great River Greening (www.greatrivergreening.org) for buckthorn removal, prairie restoration, slope stabilization at its Martin’s Meadows open space property and the adjacent city park.
There have been discussions about trying to improve access at this 38-acre property along the Rum River that the city purchased for $930,000 in November 2009, but the easiest way to get there is by canoe.
The 20.6-acre North Woods Preserve property was the second property purchased in September 2010 for $320,000 is the easiest to get to, but there is only a short residential street to park on and no designated spots. Staying on the right path can be confusing because the access and parts of the trail are right next to private property.
In fact, the family who sold the land to the city and still owns property next to it had to put up a no trespassing sign at the end of the long driveway to their home that is located next to the entrance of the open space just east of Crane Street and north of 161st Avenue.
Although the main goal of the 2006 open space referendum voters approved is to protect land from development and not create more city parks, the council is interested in some public access in the future.
Councilmember Sheri Bukkila said she was originally not in favor of this purchase because of the money that would need to be spent on the road, which would have come from the city’s general fund, but she is supportive now because of the plan for future access.
“The important thing to know is we’re not paying an exuberant amount of money,” Bukkila said.
Dickinson said last fall that the city was offering less per acre for the Blanchette-Selmer parcel because it is landlocked. At that time, the city offered $342,000, but it is offering even less now with the access road from Hanson Boulevard across the Lawrence property no longer a possibility.
A future council and city staff that addresses surrounding housing development will have to be “on their game” to get the developer to help get access to the open space, Dickinson said.
Assuming this third purchase goes through, Dickinson said the open space account that started with $2 million in 2006 will have $450,000 left in it. Councilmember Julie Trude would like the open space advisory commission to look at easements, perhaps along the Rum River, and not just large parcels and would like a reminder letter sent to property owners that the city is still looking for willing sellers.
Eric Hagen is at [email protected]