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Afton buffer zone gathers ‘momentum’

Afton Planning Commission began work on developing its agri-tourism overlay district last week.

Planning Commission discussed the proposed Manning Avenue Corridor Agri-Tourism Overlay District during its Oct. 7 meeting.

“I feel this is a very good template that has been worked up here as a starting point,” Commissioner Kitty Kilmer said. “I think we’re very close to being able to give them a springboard.”

Even though Planning Commission has been working on an agri-tourism ordinance for the past several months, last week’s meeting was the first time commissioners took a look at the new overlay district.

The concept of an agri-tourism overlay district developed last month after Afton City Council discussed possible ways to prevent annexation to Woodbury along Manning Avenue.

“We’re trying to find a way to maximize the value of agricultural parcels in Afton,” Commissioner Dick Bend said. “We need to find a way to make them more valuable to the land owner, while ensuring that the land uses are consistent with our comprehensive plan.”

The district

The proposed overlay district is proposed to be bounded on the west by Manning Avenue, Hudson Road to the north, County Road 60 to the south and Neal Avenue to the East.

According to the ordinance, its purpose is “to preserve, promote, maintain and enhance the use of land for agricultural-related uses and to protect and preserve Afton’s rural, agricultural character over the long term, by providing economically viable ag-related commercial uses.”

The uses

Afton’s proposed ordinance outlines a number of accessory and conditional uses allowed within the Manning Avenue Corridor Agri-Tourism Overlay District.

Some of the accessory uses include: barn dances, corn mazes, petting zoos, pumpkin patches, sleigh and hay rides, farmhouse dinners, horseback riding and harvest festivals.

Conditional uses, which would require stricter regulations, could include: farm wineries, greenhouses and nurseries, commercial wedding venues, farmers markets and bed-and-breakfasts. 

“These need to be modern variations of active farms and agriculture,” Bend said.

The regulations

There are a number of regulations laid out regulating noise, lighting, odors, parking, capacity, hours of operation and food preparation.

One regulation that received considerable discussion during the Oct. 7 meeting related to street access.

The ordinance states all agri-tourism business must be accessed from a state or county highway.

Whereas most commissioners were amiable to the regulation, Commissioner Mark Nelson said he did not support the regulation because it greatly decreased the size of the overlay district.

A consensus was not reached.

Two other regulations that received considerable discussion related to setbacks and minimum lot size.

Commissioners discussed whether or not a minimum lot size is required or if the same thing can be accomplished with larger setbacks.

Commissioner Adam Smerud said he would be in favor of having fewer regulations within the ordinance, and rather regulate the uses through the conditional-use permit process.

“I worry when we get into general requirements because we box ourselves in a bit, but I agree we need to have some guiding principles,” he said. “I want to make sure we don’t spend too much time over-architecting this.”

Planning Commission also discussed possibly implementing the Manning Avenue Corridor Agri-Tourism Overlay District in stages as a way to get something in place now, but add additional uses and regulations at a later date.

“If we can do it in a staged way, I think we’re on to something here,” Kilmer said.

Commissioners were unable to reach a consensus last week given that three of its commissioners were absent.

“I think we need three more sets of eyeballs on this before we’re ready to say it’s ready for prime-time or not,” Smerud said.

Additionally, Commissioner Kris Kopitzke said he would like to generate feedback from the residents who live along the corridor.

However, other commissioners felt they wanted to wait to gather public input until they have a more solid draft ordinance.

“If there are flaws, I’d rather iron them out before the public is more involved than they are now,” Bend said.

Commissioners said they will continue their discussion next month in hopes of having a public hearing in December.

“We do want to put our best foot forward,” Kopitzke said.

“Let’s try to keep the momentum of what we’re doing here,” Smerud said.

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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