Open space meets agri-tourism in Afton
It’s back to the drawing board for the Manning Avenue Corridor Overlay District.
Afton City Council directed the city’s Planning Commission to continue its discussion of the proposed overlay district during its Feb. 12 workshop.
However, unlike past directives, City Council laid specific goals for Planning Commission to address.
“Anything we do should be both attractive for people that want to develop that corridor from an economic standpoint and the goal of wanting to protect the Afton that is described in our comprehensive plan,” Mayor Dick Bend said.
The Manning Avenue Corridor Overlay District has been bouncing around Afton City Hall for the past several months as a way to prevent against the possibility of annexation in a forward-thinking way.
“Right now there is a window of opportunity to get our ducks in a row,” Council Member Bill Palmquist said. “I think we need to look at a real creative way of how we can go about doing some of this.”
City Council identified several goals during the meeting: preserve Afton’s rural character, create an open space development ordinance, use conservation easements and incorporate agri-tourism.
“The real goal is to preserve the rural character of the city,” City Administrator Ron Moorse said. “The question is how can we best do that?”
As an overlay district, the Manning Avenue Corridor would allow residents to opt in to the additional uses. However, the underlying districts would remain the same.
“We’re not trying to eliminate the present uses, we want to give an alternative,” Bend said.
Council members said they would like Planning Commission to limit the overlay district to properties fronting Manning Avenue.
Open space development
The primary goal identified by City Council is the creation of an open space development ordinance, which would allow for clustered housing within the city.
However, the clustered development would only be allowed under the condition that a percentage of the land be put into a conservation easement with the Minnesota Land Trust, which means it must be preserved and cannot be developed.
Palmquist said he would like to consider requiring 50 percent of the property be put into an easement.
By allowing for clustered development, developers could build more houses on 40 acre parcels. Additionally, individual homes could be on smaller lots than is typically required within Afton.
“You give a little to get a lot,” Council Member Randy Nelson said.
Nelson initially brought up the possibility of using open space development for the Manning Avenue Corridor Overlay District, since he felt the city’s current open space ordinance, which allows for one additional lot if an easement is used, doesn’t provide enough incentive.
“We need something that is strong enough and that people would use,” he said. “I think it would serve us well to have something better than we have today.”
City Council said it would like Planning Commission to not only look at the city’s current open space development ordinance, but also the city’s former ordinance.
Additionally, City Council said it would like Planning Commission to use the Cedar Bluff development as a possible model.
The initial vision of the Manning Avenue Corridor Overlay District was to allow for agri-tourism uses, commercial uses with an agricultural component such as wineries, barn weddings and apple orchards, as the sole component of the overlay district.
However, after further discussion City Council decided that allowing agri-tourism wasn’t enough of a safeguard.
“I don’t know if that gets us the protection that we want,” Nelson said.
Bend and Council Member Peg Nolz expressed some reservations over allowing the agri-tourism uses since the properties along Manning Avenue are both agricultural and residential.
“It’s not the same animal,” Nolz said. “I don’t know how you meld them.
“The expectation of living in rural residential and agricultural (zones) is different.”
Bend said he had concerns over allowing commercial uses in a non-commercial zone.
“We have a history of protecting our residential areas from commercial use,” he said. “To step on the toes of that many residents would not be a prudent citywide way to plan.”
Nelson offered up the option of requiring a conservation easement, similar to open space development, for all agri-tourim businesses.
Planning Commission will discuss the Manning Avenue Corridor Overlay District next week.
“I think we need to stop the ping pong ball from going back and forth,” Bend said. “It’s important to have an integrated plan that doesn’t limit us to reacting to single possibilities.”