Council on board rail station parking ramp plan

Anoka City Council has approved the plans for a new parking ramp at the Northstar Commuter Rail Station.

Anoka City Council has approved the site plan for a $9 million parking ramp at the Northstar Station. Graphic courtesy of the city of Anoka
Anoka City Council has approved the site plan for a $9 million parking ramp at the Northstar Station. Graphic courtesy of the city of Anoka

The ramp has been several years in the making, since the city received a $5.85 million federal grant to help fund the project.

But as Councilmember Jeff Weaver put it, the council was on a “no, heck no” track when it came to subsidizing the remaining cost of the ramp, which at one time was estimated to cost $12 million.

The council Aug. 20 approved the site plan for a $9 million parking ramp that will be funded by the federal Congestion Mitigation Air Quality (CMAQ) grant, $2 million in anticipated funding from Counties Transportation Improvement Board, as well as financial support from the Anoka County Regional Rail Authority and the city of Anoka.

It wasn’t until those additional funding sources were identified that the council changed direction and started to consider building the parking facility.

“It has probably been a good idea all along but of course the city of Anoka looking at a project that is going to serve people in and around the city of Anoka, with many people coming into Anoka to use the rail, it makes sense there would be a variety of funding sources,” said Mayor Phil Rice. “When it really started to make sense we got on the ‘yes, heck yes’ bandwagon.”

The site plan was supported unanimously by the city council, with the exception of Councilmember Steve Schmidt, who has abstained from all discussions and the Aug. 20 vote because he owns property nearby.

The ramp will be located at the Northstar Commuter Rail Station on Fourth Avenue, on the current surface parking lot on the south side of the tracks.

“The new facility will be a two story, three level parking ramp of 342 spaces,” said Planning Director Carolyn Braun.

The ramp also includes a pedestrian overpass to improve safety and has been designed to accommodate future expansion.

“Once construction of the parking facility is completed on the south side, then the north side of the parking facility would then be available for development,” Braun said.

There is potential for 10,000 square feet of development on this north side. There will also be space on the south side of the new parking facility that would allow for some future retail and service development.

The city is also planning to invest about $900,000 in architectural enhancements to the ramp’s curb appeal and give it a more historic look.

City Manager Tim Cruikshank explained Anoka will not be paying for the ramp out of the general fund.

“The city’s portion is TIF (tax increment financing) dollars from developing properties in the rail area, which as of right now would be the VOA project,” Cruikshank said.

TIF funds are generated in defined redevelopment areas of the city and are specifically designated for funding new projects.

Along with approving the site plan, the council also gave the go ahead to two variances, which included permission to sidestep the city’s own requirements for architectural materials on the outside of the parking ramp.

In this particular part of the city, buildings are required to have a minimum of 75 percent brick, stone or decorative masonry on each elevation of exterior.

“One of the things we found as we went through the process is that because this is such a large structure, it had not been anticipated in the design standards how or whether our structural material standards could meet those requirements,” said Braun. “A variance will allow less brick on the exterior. The current requirements simply do not work.”

The south side of the building will have 8.5 percent brick and stone, west 50 percent, east 56 percent and north, 9.3 percent.

While the plan was also supported unanimously by the city’s Planning Commission, Braun said the group is asking the council to consider directing the commission to reconsider those standards for exterior building materials and make some adjustments to the requirements in the Commuter Rail Transit Village.

Construction of the ramp is expected to begin next year and be complete in 2014.

Mandy Moran Froemming is at [email protected]