NB council approves density credits for urban service area

Community Development Director Carla Vita, during the July 25 North Branch City Council meeting, said she’s worked in some cities that do not allow any 1-acre lots not on city well and sewer in their urban service areas.
In North Branch, however, staff felt it was best to allow some 1-acre lots in its urban service area. By a 4-1 vote of the council — Council Member Robert Canada voted no — the council approved a plan, as proposed by staff, that allows one buildable acre per 10 acres in the city’s new urban service area, which was updated at the July 11 meeting.
“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 to the council.
The memo noted the compromise is “an attempt to balance competing ideologies and to meet the fiscal needs of both the city and North Branch Water and Light.”
Vita noted this plan would not appease all residents, as there are some people who think no new lots in the urban service area should be allowed to be not on city well and sewer, and then there are other people who believe well and private septic lots should be allowed without restrictions in the urban service area.
One of those residents is Nancy Zacherson, who owns more than 100 acres.
“I do not share your dream with 3 and 4 homes on an acre,” she said to the council. “You are trying to control my land. I should not be denied the privilege of selling my place because of the city’s problems.”
Council Member Kelley Neider asked city staff if Zacherson found a buyer for her land — she had been working with developer Larry Beach on a proposal — if she’d be bound by 1 per 9 rule. City Administrator Renae Fry said there are options for departure from that rule, in the form of a comprehensive plan amendment request, which would have to be voted on by the council.
Resident Phil Carlson said he thought residents should have more input on the density credits and the urban service area.
“What I’m asking you to do would be to change or rescind the urban service area,” he said. “Let’s update the comp plan. Let’s get a group together. There are a lot of smart people around.”
Council Member Jim Swenson explained the council had been discussing the urban service area and density credits for about six months, but residents often don’t come to meetings during the idea formulating stage. Instead, they wait until action is about to be taken before they voice their concerns or offer ideas.
Resident Steve Schmidt said he normally has a tough time criticizing people, but he spoke up to voice his concerns.
“I do not favor the density credit system, as set up,” he said. “To take a farm and say you can do something with 10 percent and we’re saving 90 percent for future generations. … Obviously the city is not going to buy the land, so how are you going to save it for the future, when service arrival could be never?”
The council briefly discussed the possibility of changing the ratio to allow more 1-acre lots in the urban service area but ultimately went with staff’s recommendation.
“I’m not going to make a decision on behalf of one person,” Neider said. “I’m making it on behalf of the whole city of North Branch. I’m not sure what that is going to look like in 30 years. I feel our staff has our best interest in our city at heart. They see a vision, and it’s way beyond what I see, so I appreciate the work and the dedication staff has put into this.”
At the end of the discussion, Canada voiced his opposition to the plan again and said he wanted to place an item on the next council meeting agenda that would prompt the council to vote on the repeal of both the updated urban service area and the density credits.

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