Anoka’s Housing and Redevelopment Authority has two high profile purchases in the works.
The HRA has a deal in place to purchase on an old home at 210 Monroe Street in the heart of Anoka and is also moving ahead on buying 1632 South Ferry Street, the well-known Woodbury House.
1632 South Ferry
At a special meeting Aug. 6 the HRA agreed to move forward on the purchase of the Woodbury House, located at 1632 South Ferry Street, on a 3-2 vote.
Chairman Carl Youngquist said the HRA does not have specific plans for this property.
The concept of acquiring the house was run by the Anoka City Council during a development work session late last month.
While the council did not take formal action, it did support the concept of the HRA buying the house.
“The city council does have some plans for a trail easement in front of that property to extend the train from Penn Point park all along the Rum River there. That was our main objective in purchasing that property and getting that trail easement prior to anything else happening,” said Finance Director Lori Yager.
The listing price on the bank-owned property is $354,000, according to Darin Berger, housing coordinator for the HRA.
HRA Commissioner Pat Walker said he voted against the purchase of 1632 South Ferry, but now he plans to make the best of it.
“I really don’t like the idea of holding the property for a long time. I don’t like the idea of rehabilitating the property with taxpayer dollars,” said Walker. “If we can purchase the property, apply the easement and make any changes we need to make and remarket the property that would be the best thing I could hope for at this point.”
Walker said when he learned other people were interested in purchasing the property, perhaps with the idea of using the house as a fine dining restaurant, he wanted the HRA to step away.
Barb Thurston, an Anoka resident and a member of the city’s Heritage Preservation Commission, questioned why the city would buy it if it didn’t have a plan.
“If you’re going to do something with it and then turn around and remarket it, to me that sounds like you are in the real-estate business. It just doesn’t sound right to me,” said Thurston.
Youngquist acknowledged there are pros and cons to purchasing the property, and people had a right to question the HRA’s intentions.
Shirley Karpe suggested the city consider the Woodbury House as a future home of the Anoka County Historical Society, which currently leases a building from the city at the corner of Jackson Street and Third Avenue.
Walker said he had already looked into that option, but it isn’t viable because the Woodbury house is a wood structure and wouldn’t provide adequate protection for historic artifacts.
Anoka resident Paul Pierce was critical of the HRA’s actions in several neighborhoods in Anoka where the commission has bought blighted properties and torn them down.
Pierce asked the HRA to promise it wouldn’t demolish the Woodbury House, something he said the commission has made a habit of doing after purchasing properties.
“I’m wondering can you at least assure the public that this will be historic in the fact that it might be the very first property you buy that you don’t demolish,” said Pierce.
“The public is interested in the continuous HRA program to demolish and destroy our heritage in town.”
Pierce said some long-time residents feel, “so much [of Anoka’s] great charm has been destroyed, ruined or taken down, mostly at the hands of city government. To stay here and watch it be destroyed makes it hard.”
Youngquist said the HRA has no intention of removing the Woodbury House.
“We can’t do it, I wouldn’t want to do it, the HRA doesn’t want to do it,” Youngquist told Pierce.
The property is on the National Register of Historic Places and there is an easement in place that puts specific limits on what can be done with the exterior of the house.
That easement is both held and enforced by the HRA, which Pierce asked if the commission considered a conflict.
“I’m not interested in using the power of the HRA to modify it to fit our own needs,” Walker said of those restrictions.
210 Monroe Street
The HRA has a much different intentions on 210 Monroe Street. It has reached an agreement to buy the property for $190,000.
The commission hopes someone will buy the home and have it moved off the lot, making room for redevelopment. Youngquist pointed out the property had been on the market for the better part of a year.
“It’s got wonderful historical curb appeal that needs to be preserved,” he said.
But Anoka resident Erik Skogquist was critical of the HRA’s action in local neighborhoods.
“Just because its near downtown and in one of the areas people have looked at for years wanting to redevelop doesn’t mean you should be doing that,” said Skogquist, who grew up in that particular neighborhood.
He challenged the HRA to set its sights elsewhere.
“You guys are spending tons and tons of time on a couple of areas and a couple of projects when they are fine,” Skogquist told the board, suggesting East River Road might be a better target.
“That’s nothing but an entrance to the city and an eyesore and I don’t see you putting any money into that,” he said.
Commissioner Merrywayne Elvig said the HRA’s concern was the future of 210 Monroe Street as rental property.
The historic home has been divided into multiple suites, which the board had been informed would be going up for rent at the end of August if the property didn’t sell.
“We’ve had many years of discussion about it,” said Elvig. “One of the things that we were asked to do was get rid of single family homes that were turned into two and three units.”
Walker said he supports the purchase of the Monroe Street home, calling the property an island surrounded by parking lots and the Sandburg school building.
“There’s a lot of development going on in this area and this house, I’m sorry to say, is just in the way of what’s going to happen,” Walker said.
To date there are not specific redevelopment plans for this area, which is adjacent to Anoka’s downtown.
And the absence of those plans make Barb Thurston uneasy.
“You’re encroaching on a historic neighborhood and we take a lot of pride in our neighborhood,” said Thurston. “It’s an unknown of what’s going to happen there.”
Mandy Moran Froemming is at firstname.lastname@example.org