Council approves change for Catcher’s Creek on split vote

Staff Writer
I cover the cities of Andover, Blaine and Ramsey. I have worked at ABC Newspapers since August 2007.

The Andover City Council on a 3-2 vote May 2 approved a developer’s request to eliminate an access point from their new neighborhood to Prairie Road so they could construct one more home than the council had allowed them.

Back on Oct. 6, 2015, the council approved a preliminary plat for 27 single-family lots in the Catcher’s Creek 2nd Addition.

Mark Smith, of Mark of Excellence Homes, wants to build 28 homes.

To do this, he needed to get council approval to eliminate the 143rd Avenue connection to Prairie Road. This means more traffic will be going on a short stretch of Juniper Street to get to 144th Avenue and Prairie Road.

He also needed variances because the curve as 143rd Avenue turns into Juniper Street resulted in three properties having front yards with widths ranging from 65.4 feet to 71.5 feet. City policy is 80 feet.

The Andover Planning Commission on a 5-0 vote had recommended the council deny Smith’s request to add an extra home. The council had a split vote but the slight majority was enough to give Smith authorization to proceed.

Mayor Julie Trude did not think smaller front yard widths were a significant enough reason to deny Smith’s request for one more home. She noted that the city requires single family home lots in areas with city sewer and water to be at least 11,400 square feet. Two of the lots that needed the variance are each just over 40,000 square feet. The lot closest to Prairie Road is 71,000 square feet, which is approximately 1,63 acres.

Trude said the homes in Smith’s earlier phases of Catcher’s Creek have been selling fast.

“It’s not for me to decide what’s the best layout. It’s for the market to decide,” she said. “I think it’s a good plan and it’s reasonable.”

This second phase will be the final one for the Catcher’s Creek neighborhood, which will total 72 homes on 35 acres on the southeast corner of Andover Boulevard and Prairie Road.

Smith has heard demand for deeper lots with back yards fronting Coon Creek and that’s what the homes on the south side of 143rd Avenue will have and he gets one more lot to put up against Coon Creek with this council approval.

He also believes that this modification gives residents in the Hickory Meadows development one less reason to drive through the Catcher’s Creek 2nd Addition to get to Prairie Road and instead keep using 144th Avenue as they do today.

Andover’s fire, public works and building departments reviewed the plans and had no problem with eliminating an access point onto Prairie Road since a general goal is fewer accesses onto busy streets to reduce places where accidents could happen.

But Council Member Val Holthus thinks it’s better for first responders to have more access points into a neighborhood for quicker response. And she said all the Catcher’s Creek 2nd Addition homes would end up using Juniper Street.

Council Member Sheri Bukkila joined Holthus on the ‘no’ vote side. A person requesting a variance needs to show that there’s a “practicable difficulty” such as a problem with the site that is making it more difficult to develop.

“I’m not finding one,” she said.

Trude countered that variances could be granted for reasonable economic considerations. The approval resolution the council adopted on the 3-2 vote notes that “a significant portion of the plat is inundated with floodplains and wetlands. These areas are required to be protected. No improvements are allowed within the floodplains and wetlands. This significantly limits the buildable area within the plat.”

City Attorney Scott Baumgartner told the council there would have been justifications for approving or denying the variances.

“I can make an argument either way,” he said.

For Council Member Jim Goodrich, the fact that the city’s engineering and fire departments said it was OK to lose an access point made him more comfortable with giving a ‘yes’ vote.

“I don’t think these variances are too extreme,” he said.

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