An area south of Andover Boulevard and east of Prairie Road in Andover has seen a lot of activity in the last several months as a developer preps for a future housing subdivision. More work will be starting soon on another site to the east.
The Andover City Council April 15 approved a permit for Mark of Excellence Homes to mine 65,000 cubic yards of sand on a property bordered by Andover Boulevard to the north, Coon Creek to the south, Butternut Street to the west and University Avenue to the north.
The mining work will only be allowed 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays and cannot happen on Sundays. All hauling activity must be completed no later than Dec. 1.
Mark Smith, owner of Mark of Excellence Homes, said there are no immediate plans to construct homes on this property, but he needs these soils for the Catcher’s Creek 70 single-family home development happening to the west in order to elevate the property closest to Coon Creek to prevent the properties from regularly flooding.
Smith’s other property to the east has more dramatic topographic changes. Mining this property and then subsequently leveling it out, landscaping it and paving new roads will prepare the property for future development. Smith said he most likely would sell the property to another developer though.
“This site will never work unless we bring this grade down,” Smith said of the property he is mining.
“That, and we have a place down the street where we need to have this for the development,” Smith added in reference to the Catcher’s Creek development he is working on.
Smith bought a property along Coon Creek in 1985, just south of the area he is mining. He once planned to build a home on this site for himself, but never did move to Andover. It was 2004 and 2005 when he purchased properties now within the future Catcher’s Creek development. He bought two additional parcels in 2012 that he will doing this mining project before preparing the site for a future developer.
Councilmember Julie Trude lives in the Shadowbrook neighborhood on the opposite side of Coon Creek from Smith’s properties and she has been hearing a lot of negative feedback from neighbors upset about the loss of trees and questioning Smith’s intentions.
Three of the four residents who spoke during the mining project public hearing at the April 8 Andover Planning and Zoning Commission meeting either said they were unhappy with the tree loss or concerned about dirt eroding into Coon Creek.
Dave Pipp lives in the Shadowbrook Cove Townhome Association and is a board member for Cove Conservancy, LLC, which owns approximately 30 acres near this site.
“Our biggest concern is making sure that the property they are taking the soil from is not going to create a run-off problem and plug up the creek and wash into our area,” he said.
Community Development Director David Carlberg said Smith must establish erosion controls, such as silt fencing, when excavating or developing a property. Before he can start mining, he must receive permit approval from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the Coon Creek Watershed District, which is the governing body in charge of Coon Creek.
Shadowbrook neighborhood resident Mike O’Donnell said he understands that Smith cannot proceed with mining until he receives all these permits, “but I’m still angry about the trees, that he was allowed to pursue that before he had complete approval.”
Carlberg said the city is limited on what it can require in terms of tree removal until a development or mining application is filed.
“The city does not control people’s property rights to remove trees prior to you getting involved in a development process of a plat,” he said.
Carlberg added that the 65,000 cubic yards of fill Smith is excavating from this site for Catcher’s Creek is nowhere near Coon Creek and a suspected burial mound.
Scott Anfinson, state archeologist, was contacted by the city when someone raised a concern about an alleged burial mound near the mining site.
Anfinson wrote in a March 11 email to the city that, “The burial mounds were reported years ago, but have never been looked at by an archaeologist.” From the research he has done, he said “there is a good chance they are indeed burial mounds.”
However, Smith subsequently lowered his material excavation permit request from 110,000 cubic feet to 65,000 cubic feet after he determined less material was needed for Catcher’s Creek.
With excavation now taking place several hundred feet from the suspected burial mound, “that’s really a non-issue at this point,” Carlberg said. However, Anfinson will still be invited in to verify that the suspected burial mound would not be impacted.
Carlberg said the off-site stormwater runoff cannot be greater once the project is done. Smith pointed to an elevation map how the work area will slope down about 10 feet over a 40-foot area and how sand will help infiltrate water so there is no runoff of sediment to neighbors properties or the creek.
“Everything is almost going to be like a bowl in this area,” Smith said.
The stumps of the removed trees will be grounded down by a machine and not dug out so the soils will not be disturbed. This will reduce the chance of erosion as well, Smith said.
Councilmember Sheri Bukkila wants to make sure that Andover Boulevard is swept every day after truckloads of fill are transferred from one site to another.
Tucked between the area to be mined and the Catcher’s Creek development is the Hickory Meadows neighborhood. Smith said it you ran a road from Hickory Meadows to the eastern boundary of the property he is mining, there would be a 24-foot rise in elevation. This means every home would need a three-foot retaining wall to account for the steep topography change. By doing the excavation, he will make this elevation change less drastic.
Brenda Schmeichel’s backyard faces the Catcher’s Creek development. When asked for her opinion on what has been happening, she said she is looking forward to the 144th Avenue cul-de-sac going away so that this road can be connected to Prairie Road. This will make it easier for her family to get to the trail on Prairie Road to head south to Bunker Hills Regional Park or north to Prairie Knoll Park.
Smith said he cleared the trees so it was safer and more efficient for construction crews to work on the property and so that the new homeowners would also have a good view of a wetland to the south that the Shadowbrook residents now enjoy.
Smith noted that he used to own the property now occupied by the Hickory Meadows neighborhood. When he sold that site, he thought it was going to be a horse farm, but the new buyer ended up building homes and thus started changing the area. The housing density of Catcher’s Creek will be similar to Hickory Meadows, he said.
As for Trude, she is still not happy that a property owner can do such a large-scale tree clearing without needing to talk to city staff unless they happen to file a development or mining application first. However, she said she feels better to know that Smith had a long-range plan all along. But Trude said the neighborhood should have been better informed ahead of time.
“I needed to know it was part of a staged development and that something good was going to come out of it in the end,” she said.
Eric Hagen is at firstname.lastname@example.org