A grassy patch hugging the Rum River in northwest Andover is among 130 acres of open, pristine space that will forever stay green because residents gave the city the money to buy it and shield it from development.
Now, eight and a half years after voters approved a $2 million bond request, that money is almost used up. With the funds slowly tapped to purchase land, the pot is down to $80,000.
Community Development Director David Carlberg said Andover can afford one more acquisition. Depending on whether it’s in a rural or an urban area, the city could buy up to 10 additional acres, he said.
The bond request was approved in November 2006, with 54 percent of voters supporting it. Andover is one of more than 20 Twin Cities suburbs that have passed measures to preserve open spaces since the late 1980s, according to the Trust for Public Land.
“It says so much of strong values we all hold in terms of parks and natural lands, and investing in them,” said Susan Schmidt, director of the Minnesota chapter of the trust.
After Andover voters approved the bond request, seven residents were appointed to a new Open Space Commission. Progress was slow at first, but because it came as development slowed sharply amid the troubled housing market, the commission had time to plan ahead.
The process of identifying and then buying undeveloped areas was deliberate. City officials had a biological survey of its open land done and ranked sites by types of habitat, plant and animal species and whether they were part of wildlife corridors. Other considerations were whether the land sheltered a waterway or rare or endangered plant and animal species.
City officials then sent letters to large land owners, many of whom expressed interest in selling property. The commission used its ranking system to decide which sites to buy.
The city bought its first property in 2009, a parcel called Martin’s Meadows. The 40 acres of wooded, scenic bluffs along the Rum River is a choice area that will stay green for deer, hikers and cross-country skiers.
Improvements to the land
The open-space fund can be used only to buy land, but the city makes site improvements or seeks grants for management help. In December 2013, for example, Andover won a state Legacy Amendment grant for $117,000 to remove buckthorn and make other improvements at Martin’s Meadows.
Since January 2014, Andover has been particularly active in acquiring land, purchasing three additional properties totaling 70 acres.
Mayor Julie Trude said most of it has been sold by residents who wanted to preserve the land.
The next step is “educating residents as to where the open space properties are,” Carlberg said. One of the three properties purchased within the last year has a kiosk with information about what amenities the sights offer, he said.
The commission is now looking at grants to fund managing and restoring the properties, if needed.
The City Council could decide whether it wants to vote on another open-space referendum and buy more land, but Carlberg said there have been no discussions yet.
If Andover residents pass a second open-space measure, they would join cities such as Woodbury, Plymouth and Eden Prairie that have done so.
“We’ve been so fortunate to have really wonderful land,” Trude said. “Residents really love the nature. They moved here to enjoy nature, and they want to make sure we have areas preserved for them to enjoy even though change happens around us.”