The city of North Branch had a plan for hookups to municipal services that it called the 20-year growth ring. The name of that plan and its aim were tweaked at the July 11 City Council meeting.
Community Development Director Carla Vita, reading from a memo, said to the council that on Jan. 3 the council directed city staff to conduct a review of the areas within the city that are planned for municipal services.
“Since that date, staff has been working on a comprehensive review,” she said. “As part of the review, the city has begun using the concept of ‘urban service area’ instead of the historical ‘20-year growth ring.’ As stated in the April 11, 2017, memo to the City Council, the goal is that ‘by July 19, 2017, the urban service area is redefined and moratorium is no longer needed due to the redefined (urban service area) and ordinance changes regarding building acre and density credits.”
Vita noted at the May 4 council work session meeting, comments were generally supportive of the urban service area proposed map.
The city approved the new map 4-1, with Council Member Robert Canada casting the dissenting vote.
“The goal is to have new developments that are established within the (urban service area) hook up to city sewer and water,” City Administrator Renae Fry said in an email.
During the meeting, it was noted that some residents who live in already existing homes in the urban service area that have private well and septic have expressed concern that the city is going to force them to hook up. In most instances, that will not be the case.
“Public sewer would have to be within 100 feet of a structure,” Fry said. “If there’s no threat to safety or welfare and current septic system is in compliance with code, then the property owner will not be required to connect.”
Some members of the public present for the meeting, including former Council Members Joyce Borchardt and Theresa Furman, expressed opposition to the new urban service area, saying that it could hamstring current and future developers who want build homes on larger lots within the area with their own well and septic.
“Thank you for limiting us and our options in the future,” Borchardt said.
Mayor Kirsten Hagen Kennedy said the idea of the urban service area is ensure uniformity so some developers aren’t told they have to hook up to city services while others are given a pass.
“I think that one of the things that staff has done is be methodical in how they look at things,” she said. “I think sometimes it is a positive that staff isn’t connected to people who live here, so they can look at things subjectively. I think the staff worked on that to make sure that we have density and availability to have 1-acre lots. We have to be uniform in how we make decisions.”
Following the discussion, the council tabled a vote on density credits until its next regular meeting that would allow some 1-acre development in the urban service area while preserving the remaining land on larger parcels for future development. The idea is to have 1 buildable acre per 10 acres.
“The development would take place within the 1 acre, preserving the remaining 9 acres to such time water and sewer is available to hook the property up,” Vita wrote in a memo.
Resident Nancy Zacherson called that idea a “little unrealistic.”
“That’s a lot of land you’re putting in preserve,” she said.
Resident Steve Schmidt said he wasn’t opposed to the proposal, but he thinks it should be tweaked.
“I have no problem with what we’re talking about now, but I think the 10-1 ratio is too small,” he said. “To say you’ve got 10 percent of what you got, and we’re going to keep the 90 percent for future generations, that seems a little inequitable — maybe 25 percent.”