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home : news : news July 25, 2017

4/7/2017 9:56:00 AM
Charter School is okay'd for Access Church site

North Branch Access Church was approved to house a charter school for grades K-3, based on action March 28 by the city council the church is one step closer to housing what is dubbed “Phoenix Academy.”

Access Church sits at 392nd and Hwy 95 on the west side of the freeway.  It is operating in the City of North Branch through a Conditional Use Permit,  and council first wanted review of how well the church is satisfying conditions that were set years ago for the site.  

At the first airing of the request to add the school, which was about a month ago, the city council heard from neighbors who used the public hearing for an opportunity to present issues with church-goers and with the site falling short of permit requirements.  Vehicles are parked in unauthorized spots, exterior church lighting is intrusive, there are violations of noise ordinances and neighbors put up with exhibition driving practices, according to statements made at the council meeting.  The street to get into the church is congested sometimes and the highway access is hazardous. And, trees that were required to be planted for screening never showed up.  The pastor  reportedly told city staff they “probably died” and the church has agreed to plant trees in May, according to city planner Carla Vita.

The vote last week okaying the school was 4-1 with Council member Jim Swenson opposed.  

Swenson was unassured that the dangers inherent with the intersection have been addressed and he could not condone more traffic using the intersection when a school opens.
Council person Kelly Neider made the motion to authorize the school use.  She said she sat by the road in her car and observed traffic and didn’t see any concerns.  The church/facility officials are responsible enough to manage a school of (unofficial estimate) 130 students and 15 staff, she added.

Council member Robert Canada, however, noted problems with vehicular turn movements and congestion and wondered if the church can be required to share in adding a turn lane as part of the city’s okay.  At a minimum, he said, the location should be “monitored” for traffic hazards.

North Branch City Administrator Renae Fry said staff is reviewing right-of-way width to see if there’s room for a turn lane to be “striped” to help improve public safety.

Swenson said road upgrade costs are going to end up being the city’s responsibility-- unless they are made part of the conditions of granting this, which they were not.  (Any MnDOT traffic study, per the council resolution that passed,  will be paid by the applicant.)

Fry explained the city also had facilitated a meeting of neighborhood property owners and church representatives, that went well, she thought.  The pastor’s phone number was provided to all so there could be better communication should issues develop.

And, during the council’s open microphone agenda item two nearby residents spoke about the need to hold Access Church “accountable” for satisfying the original permit. Brian Sar told council the city is “creating a disaster” by allowing this.  Jim Oftehaar said rural areas of the city should expect equal treatment when it comes to land uses. The  downtown area of North Branch would never be expected to tolerate what the property owners near Access Church have, he stated.

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