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Annexation concerns raised for Woodbury-Afton border

It appears that agritourism will be coming to Afton and it could serve as a buffer between the city and neighboring Woodbury.

 Afton Planning Commission agreed, with the input of Afton City Council, to move forward with the development of an agritourism overlay district to be located along Manning Avenue.

 “It may be good to look at (agritourism) very narrowly right now,” Mayor Pat Snyder said.

  Issues with annexation

 During the Sept. 9 meeting, Planning Commission and City Council held a joint discussion with City Attorney Fritz Knaak regarding a recent annexation case that occurred in Lake Elmo.

 In the case, several properties, which were zoned agricultural, requested a rezoning because the properties were located off of Highway 36 and Highway 5 and the property owners were having trouble selling their properties.

 Lake Elmo refused the rezoning stating that it likes having the agriculture buffer between residential properties and the highways.

 “Their argument was ‘We like it that way, it serves as a good buffer,’” Knaak said. “Lake Elmo had no particular concern about the use.”

 The properties ultimately requested to be annexed to Stillwater Township — a move the city refused.

 The property owners eventually took the city to court.

 The court sided with the property owners ruling that Lake Elmo did not present sufficient planning, or evidence, as to why the properties could not be rezoned.

 The ruling resulted in a property being annexed from the city.

 The annexation decision is relevant to the city given that suburban Woodbury is directly across Manning Avenue from rural Afton, Knaak said.

 “The corridor along Manning is where you have a rapidly expanding neighbor,” he said.

 Given that a majority of properties along Manning Avenue are zoned agricultural, Knaak said, Afton could fall victim to the same issues as in Lake Elmo with property owners wanting to be annexed to Woodbury in order to have access to additional services and different zoning requirements.

 “The question becomes, ‘Is there anything we can do to insulate the city from any adverse effects,’” he said.

 There are several things Afton can do to get ahead of any future annexation issues through specialized zoning areas or overlay districts, Knaak said.

 “You can make some allowances for the changes in uses that are nearby,” he said. “It doesn’t affect what’s on the ground, it’s just additional requirements above it — you can increase the flexibility and usability of that property.

 “You can create the buffer without appearing to just want to build a wall.”

 An agritourism overlay

 The annexation discussion led seamlessly into the Planning Commission’s agritourism discussion last week since commissioners were struggling with where to allow agritourism.

 Agritourism, as the city describes it, refers to commercial businesses that involve some sort of agricultural component. Some examples include commercial barn weddings, farm wineries, apple orchards, farm markets and other related uses.

 “The list of ag-related activities is very long,” Commissioner Kitty Kilmer said. “There are a whole lot of activities that can fall under the mantle of ag-tourism.”

 During the agritourism discussion, Commissioner Adam Smerud brought up the possibility of using the classification as a possible way to create the buffer along Manning Avenue.

 Additionally, by creating an agritourism district along Manning Avenue, Tom and Clare Hoelderle, Afton residents who have proposed to open a commercial wedding venue at their property on Manning Avenue, would be allowed to run their business.

 “We could have the overlay district be a two-for,” he said. “We can advance the wedding venue discussion and address this property owner.

 “They might be a nice recipe to have a starting point because it’s a good start to our overlay district to have a happy property owner.”

 Council Member Randy Nelson and Snyder, who were present for the joint annexation discussion, stated during the agritourism discussion that they would be agreeable with creating an agritourism overlay district.

 “If we give some options that are more than what they have now,”Nelson said, “it’s a start.”

 The overlay district is proposed to be located along Manning Avenue to Hudson Road to the north and County Road 18 to the south.

 Additionally, the agritourism uses would require a conditional-use permit.

 “It will be a la carte as they come in depending on what they want to do,” Nelson said.

 Commissioner Mark Nelson said he would be in favor of not limiting the overlay district to agritourism.

 “It seems that it doesn’t protect us enough as a more general overlay district that allows a lot more things,” he said.

 Knaak told commissioners that the overlay district can be redefined at a later date.

 “My sense is there’s a place to start and then we can amend and adjust,” Smerud said. “”We can have a basic layout now, get it going quickly, so we can take care of the Hoelderles while giving ourselves more time.

 “We can get it in place before Woodbury even has a chance to get near us — it’s a way to get ready for it.”

 Planning Commission will begin drafting language, and defining uses, for the agritourism overlay district next month.

 “We’re going to step back from this wedding venue stuff and go back to the overlay district and permitted uses,” Planning Commission Chairwoman Barb Ronningen said. “We’ll take a different tact on this.”

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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