Higher density housing approved for future development

Andover residents disagree with an Andover City Council decision Oct. 15 to allow a future neighborhood next to them to develop at a higher density than previously allowed by the city’s comprehensive plan.

Residents in Andover’s Country Oaks West want more of a guarantee that homes built to the north will have more than Wintergreen Street to get in and out of the neighborhoods. Photo by Eric Hagen
Residents in Andover’s Country Oaks West want more of a guarantee that homes built to the north will have more than Wintergreen Street to get in and out of the neighborhoods. Photo by Eric Hagen

“We thought we got lucky with a piece of development that would be surrounded with rural (development) and wetland, so that’s the compatibility concern. It’s not so much that we’re against development. It’s the type of development that’s going in,” said Lisa Ripken, who lives in the Country Oaks West development south of the 83 acres that can now have city sewer and water and thus higher density.

The Andover City Council Oct. 15 on a 4-0 vote approved three comprehensive plan amendments, which must now be approved by the Metropolitan Council.

One amendment allows slightly denser development in urban low and medium density developments.

Another amendment changes the land use plan for a 6.39-acre property northwest of the new Walmart from general commercial to urban residential medium. Brad Povlitzki, who retained ownership of this property after selling 20.71 acres to Walmart, requested the change.

According to Community Development Director David Carlberg, this 6.39 acres is better suited for residential because it has limited visibility and access from a major road.

The amendment that drew the most attention, however, was placing 83 acres of separate properties owned by the Ganter and Putnam families into the Municipal Urban Service Area and changing the land use designation from rural residential to urban low density.

Development is not imminent, but the council action set the stage for future decisions. Rather than 2.5-acre lots as seen in the septic and well Deerwood Estates development east of the railroad tracks, the developer could use city sewer and water to place between 1.75 and 3.6 housing units per acre, similar to the Country Oaks West neighborhood to the south.

The 113 residents who signed a petition opposing the comprehensive plan amendment as well as all voting members of the Andover Planning and Zoning Commission and Councilmember Julie Trude feel Andover’s roads are not prepared to handle the additional traffic and are concerned that Wintergreen Street is the only certain access point to and from this neighborhood.

Carl Ganter, who inherited the property that his family has owned for 80 years and will now be developed, summarized the supporters’ point of view when he said, “Change is inevitable. It needs to happen.”

The line was crossed years ago

Mayor Mike Gamache, who has lived in Andover since 1985, said 161st Avenue had always been considered the line the city would not cross for city sewer and water development. But that changed in 2003 when the council approved extending sewer and water lines north of this county road.

“When we went to the city to develop Country Oaks West, we had to do a comp plan amendment, which means a lot of you people in this room wouldn’t have homes if somebody didn’t say yes,” said 25-year Andover resident Scott Wold. “I think it would be shameful for us to not give that quality of life that Andover has and that you people enjoy to others.”

Wold developed Country Oaks West in 2005. He presented a sketch plan proposal for Country Oaks North on the 40-acre Putnam property.

The 43-acre Ganter property to the north was not included in this sketch plan, but could develop at a similar density in the future.

A couple of residents questioned why the Municipal Urban Service Area needed to be expanded when there are 144 acres within it in other areas of the community still for sale.

Gamache said the city does not force landowners to develop. With the economy improving, other landowners want to be included in the service area and an analysis the council saw in April showed that Andover’s current sewer system could support 155 more homes in this area.

“It’s the old law of supply and demand,” Councilmember Mike Knight said. “The developer is trying to meet a demand.”

Ganter said he had no choice when Deerwood Estates and Country Oaks West developed, when a natural gas line went through his property or when he almost had to sell property to the Anoka-Hennepin School District before it decided to build Rum River Elementary School in its present location. He showed a map of the area at the time his grandparents acquired property in 1933 to illustrate how much has changed.

Jim Olson said most people moved north of Constance Boulevard (161st Avenue) because they wanted the open space. When he moved to Andover 25 years ago, he reviewed the comprehensive plan to make sure there was not going to be any urban development around him and he thinks a lot of people did the same thing.

“I think we need to stick with the comprehensive plan,” Olson said.

However, Councilmember Sheri Bukkila said the Metropolitan Council requires an overall community residential density of three to five units per acre.

City Administrator Jim Dickinson said the city is hovering at the low end.

“In order to compensate for our rural areas, we have to modify something in other areas to provide for a higher density,” Bukkila said.

Limited access a concern

Country Oaks West residents do not like that the only guaranteed access is the already half-mile Wintergreen Street that goes to 161st Avenue.

According to Carlberg, Wintergreen Street would be three-quarters of a mile long after the Putnam property is developed and one mile long after the Ganter property is developed.

Carlberg said the city’s transportation plan includes another east-west route in this area that would directly connect the neighborhoods to Hanson Boulevard to the west and Ward Lake Drive to the east. Wintergreen Street would also keep extending north to get to another section of Ward Lake Drive.

“It’s all contingent. Nothing is set in stone. (Wold) doesn’t own those properties,” Ripken said. “The property is landlocked from Hanson and we want to extend a MUSA zone and redo the land use for things that could happen in the future but we don’t know.”

Roads cannot extend through properties the city purchases for open space. The 20.6-acre North Woods Preserve that the city bought from the Emmerich family for $320,000 in 2010 is west of Country Oaks West on the north side of 161st Avenue.

Carlberg said the city in mid-November will close on the purchase of another 25 acres immediately north of North Woods Preserve for $284,600.

Wold proposed the city could use a dirt road that goes east across the railroad tracks to Ward Lake Drive for an emergency access road, but the Burlington Northern Sante Fe Railroad owns this road that traverses the Ganter property, so City Engineer and Public Works Superintendent David Berkowitz said the city would have to obtain permission to use it.

Robbie Bartholomew, Andover’s fire marshal, wrote in her review of the Country Oaks North sketch plan that a second access road will be required besides Wintergreen Street.

Gamache listed a few examples of neighborhoods where there are long stretches of roadway with only one access. This can happen because of wetlands or being near a county road that limits access.

One example that Gamache said relates to this proposal is the Miller’s Woods development, which has 2.5-acre residential lots next to it.

To compensate for the limited guaranteed accesses in the near future, the council said the southern parcel owned by the Putnams could develop first, but the Ganter property cannot develop until at least 2015.

“People want to come to Andover, just like you guys wanted to come to Andover,” Gamache said. “I understand the concerns of the neighborhood. I’m hoping that having the staging plan will work. Sometimes putting new pieces in sparks other development.”

Trude opposes this comprehensive plan amendment, but was unable to attend the Oct. 15 meeting because she is recovering from surgery. However, the council had the four votes it needed to pass the comprehensive plan amendments with a super majority.

“In our desire to allow more families to enjoy living here, we shouldn’t shortchange these new residents by ignoring our role as community planners and failing to take the time to plan safe, well-designed neighborhoods,” Trude said in a written statement.

Eric Hagen is at [email protected]