Anoka HRA narrowly decides to sell Woodbury House to city

One by one members of the five members of the Anoka Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA) slowly weighed in, some visibly struggling with their decision.

The Anoka City Council has approved a purchase agreement for 1632 S. Ferry St, to buy the property from the city’s HRA.Photo by Sue Austreng
The Anoka City Council has approved a purchase agreement for 1632 S. Ferry St, to buy the property from the city’s HRA.Photo by Sue Austreng

On a 3-2 split vote, with Chairperson Carl Youngquist casting the deciding vote, the HRA approved an agreement to sell the historic property at 1632 S. Ferry St. to the city of Anoka.

The HRA purchased what is commonly known as the Woodbury House back in August 2012, just before it was slated to go to auction.

Commissioner Lynn Hopkins said the HRA stepped in to save the house from several years abuse in the form of neglect.

But the HRA was at odds with the Anoka City Council’s vision to put a public trail on site that would connect to a future trail system on the west side of the Rum River.

After deciding to put the property back up for sale March 15, Youngquist said the HRA would give the city opportunity to buy it.

During a work session in February, the council decided it was interested and voted March 4 to approve a purchase agreement for $330,000 – the same amount the HRA paid for the property last summer.

The HRA’s vote Monday followed more than 45 minutes of discussion by all five members, as well as a Coon Rapids resident interested in purchasing the home.

Along with Youngquist, the sale was also approved by Commissioners Merrywayne Elvig and Lori Manzoline.

Manzoline took her time weighing in, saying she felt torn about her decision.

And while Elvig said she did not approve of the HRA buying the property in the first place, she also didn’t want to sell it to the council. But she was ready to move on.

“I’m anxious to get our money back,” Elvig said. “As much as I would like to abstain and as much as I would like to say no I will approve the sale to the city because the HRA needs to move forward with things that will do more for housing and redevelopment in the city of Anoka than that house will.”

Commissioners Pat Walker and Hopkins were both a firm no on selling the property to the city.

“I guess my comfort level as far as selling the property to the council would be met if they could show me a comprehensive plan for the [trail] easement where it wouldn’t affect the use and enjoyment of that property as a private home,” Hopkins said.

Walker thinks the city should have sorted out its plans for a trail on the property by now, and spring is the right time to put it up for sale.

“I want to list this privately, we have private market people who want to buy this property,” said Walker. “I think the best thing we can do for this property is put an owner inside of it.”

Manzoline cautioned the HRA that a trail would not preclude anyyone from buying the home.

“We keep assuming and generalizing that a private person would not want a trail through the back, just because four of us wouldn’t,” she said. “There are people out there who would not mind a trail back there.”

Youngquist, a realtor, agreed.

“There’s a buyer for every property,” he said. “I think that it would eliminate some [buyers] and discourage some others and it may not carry the value that it once did.”

The city’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Board has twice declined to recommend the addition of a trail to the property.

Potential buyer Kim Johnson of Coon Rapids has been clear on her intentions.

She would like to own the Woodbury House, rehabilitate it and the grounds.

But if there’s a trail running along the back of the property, between the house and the river, she’s not interested.

“I have looked into architectural firms specialize in restoring historic property,” said Johnson, a retired lieutenant colonel of the U.S. Marine Corps. “That would be my intent, to return this house to the state that it should be in.”

Johnson said she first looked at the property with her realtor back in July 2012 and she had made the HRA an offer in December 2012. She also said she has financing in place.

Johnson thinks the house should be made available for public offer, relieving Anoka’s residents of the tax burden of maintaining house and grounds.

“I’d like folks to know there are other offers on the table,” Johnson said.

During Monday’s public hearing Youngquist told Johnson he would be happy to have someone like her living in that home. But he couldn’t turn down the deal in front of him Monday night, Youngquist said.

“The way I look at it is, we wrestled with this for 6.5 months,” he said. “We tried very hard. But given the option of getting our money back and telling the people we turned down $330,000 I can’t get comfortable with that.”

So far the council has not publicly made any definitive plans for 1632 S. Ferry St.

The city is working on a long-term plan for the South Ferry Street corridor. The future of the Woodbury House will figure into that vision.

“The city council will continue in its planning process working toward a final outcome,” said City Manager Tim Cruikshank.

The city’s planning department is in the middle of a study on this gateway to Anoka.

Cruikshank said they will also circle back to the park board to revisit the concept of a trail.

A presentation on concepts for the redevelopment of South Ferry Street, along with possible zoning changes, could come as early as this summer.

Mandy Moran Froemming is at [email protected]