High marks for Andover in community survey

A community survey revealed that Andover residents are seeing shorter commute times since 2006. Most prefer driving solo to work and are not interested in mass transit. They love the rural, small-town community feel of Andover, yet would not mind having more places to shop.

What stood out to The Morris Leatherman Company the most after it randomly surveyed 400 residents in February is that most people love living in Andover and have few complaints.

Bill Morris. Photo by Eric Hagen

Bill Morris. Photo by Eric Hagen

When Andover residents were asked if city services have kept pace with population growth, 94 percent said yes. Bill Morris, of The Morris Leatherman Company, said this is the highest approval rating he has seen in 20 years of surveying communities.

“People are satisfied with the way things are going. They are optimistic about the future,” said Morris, who presented the community survey findings at an April 29 council meeting.

There have been few changes on the council since The Morris Leatherman Company last worked with the city in 2006. The only new additions have been Councilmembers Sheri Bukkila (January, 2009) and Tony Howard (September, 2011.)

Most of the residents surveyed were willing to spend half-an-hour answering questions. Only 3 percent were not interested in participating. Typically, 30 percent of people called do not want to participate, Morris said.

Morrisnoted that 32 percent of the 400 respondents only had cell phones, but no land line in their home.

despite the fact that Andover is more rural north of 161st Avenue, the opinions between people did not vary much across age demographics and areas of the community they lived in.

About half of the respondents, who mostly fell in the 35 to 54-year-old age bracket, have lived in the community for more than a decade and 67 percent own their own home in the $200,000-$300,000 price range.

The average commute time in 2006 was 26 minutes. Now it is 17.5 minutes. Nine out of every 10 people surveyed drive alone and 80 percent of all respondents said they would not be willing to use public transit, even if it was convenient.

“That’s their time and they’re not going to give it up lightly,” Morris said.

More residents are working in Andover, cutting down on the commute time. In 2006, 7 percent of respondents worked  in Andover. In 2014, it jumped to 23 percent. This does not include those who work at home. The percentage of people commuting to Minneapolis remained constant at 17 percent. About 20 percent in both 2006 and 2014 had a “not applicable” response to the commuting question, meaning they either work at home, are unemployed or retired.

Some improvements needed

Those participating in the survey were asked, “What do you think is the most serious issue facing the city of Andover today?”

About 38 percent could not think of any serious issues, which was the highest percentage of any response. Only 2 percent could think of no serious issues in the 2006 community survey.

The biggest complaint in 2014 is roads, with 20 percent saying this is a serious issue. Only 2 percent said street repair was a serious issue in 2006.

While the survey allowed open-ended responses for the above question, residents were asked one by one about different characteristics in Andover such as townhomes, senior housing, parks and open spaces and retail shopping opportunities and asked for each of the 14 categories if Andover had enough, too many or too little of this.

Over 80 percent of people feel there are enough or too many townhomes and higher-cost housing, but less than half of the 400 respondents felt there are enough or too many senior housing options.

A small majority of people feel there are enough shopping, dining or entertainment options, but about 40 percent did say Andover has too few of these options.

Morris said what he has heard over the years is that people are fine with big box retailers in smaller numbers. Too many big-name retailers in one spot creates traffic congestion and causes residents to question what has happened to their small-town community.

“A Walmart here or a Costco there is more tolerable than when it’s concentrated,” Morris said.

Before Andover voters approved the $2 million open space referendum in the 2006 election, approximately 82 percent of residents surveyed earlier that year had said they would support the city purchasing open space for permanent preservation.

Only 51 percent said they are aware of the city’s open space program. When those who said they are aware of the program were asked which sites they have visited, most named city or county parks and not open spaces.

City Administrator Jim Dickinson said there needs to be more communication about open space. The city recently purchased its third open space parcel. More information can be found on the city’s website.

Overall, Morris said he did not expect to see major improvements in public opinion between 2006 and 2014 because the Andover city government performed so well, but there are more community boosters than there were eight years ago.

“This would be among the two or three well-functioning cities we work with across the metropolitan area,” he said.

Eric Hagen is at eric.hagen@ecm-inc.com

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