Looking for common ground on riverbank in Anoka

The Anoka City Council is scheduled to vote Aug. 5 on plans for a new housing development that will include 44 upscale homes north of Bunker Lake Boulevard.

A plan to stabilize the Rum River shoreline adjacent to the Anoka Nature Preserve has been met with criticism from those who live across the river from the eroding bank.Photo/Anoka Conservation District
A plan to stabilize the Rum River shoreline adjacent to the Anoka Nature Preserve has been met with criticism from those who live across the river from the eroding bank.Photo/Anoka Conservation District

While the addition of those high-end homes adjacent to the Anoka Nature Preserve has not been particularly contentious, a plan to stabilize the bank of the Rum River has drawn concern and criticism. Much of it has come from residents who live directly across the river from the Anoka Nature Preserve.

But during a meeting Monday with the Anoka City Council, a representative of the Friends of the Anoka Nature Preserve said many in the group are looking to find common ground with the city.

“We don’t want to come across as obstructionists, that it has to be all or nothing,” said Jeanne Wilkinson. “We do want to a win, win outcome.”

July 15 the council discussed a riverbank stabilization proposal that would require about 800 feet of the Rum River, within the protected nature preserve, to be stripped of its trees and graded to a 3:1 slope to stabilize the eroding bank. A walking trail would then be added midway up the newly graded bank.

People who enjoy the river’s wild and scenic qualities were shocked by the drastic plan, recommended as the best long-term option by the Anoka Conservation District.

This week, Wilkinson said the Friends of the Anoka Nature Preserve have had some time to digest the proposal.

“We feel so much passion for that beautiful and scenic Rum River,” said Wilkinson, who lives on the west side in the Dunham Oaks neighborhood. “You get out on that river and it is so unique, so different it is spiritual.”

Wilkinson asked that the neighbors be included in the creation of the city’s long-term vision for the river corridor.

“Maybe we can do a better job of communicating what is the vision of the Anoka Nature Preserve and how does that fit into the bigger picture,” she said.

The preserve includes 200 acres owned by the city that is protected by a conservation easement held by the Anoka Conservation District. It also includes a stretch of the Rum River shoreline in the area, back 100 feet.

The severe erosion was discovered along the bank when developer and home builder Dean Hanson was investigating options for a pedestrian trail as part of the proposed development.

Hanson, as part of Landmark Development, Hanson Homes and Jonathan Builders, hopes to build the Rum River Shores neighborhood on 22 acres of land owned by the city. Hanson had volunteered to cover $175,000 of the $200,000 cost of the bank stabilization, with the city paying for the remaining $100,000.

There is also a push to do the work before new homes go in and restrict access to the bank, making any stabilization project more complicated and costly, according to Chris Lord of the Anoka Conservation District.

Concerned about the negativity that erupted during the July 15 council meeting when the issue of the bank stabilization came up, Hanson considered backing away from the Anoka project.

“This is not my battle,” Hanson said. “I don’t want to be in the middle of this controversy.”

To date, Hanson said he, along with Landmark Development, have more than $100,000 invested in the Anoka project.

Hanson had also said he was satisfied to just leave the riverbank as it is, but that’s no longer an option for the city.

“What the developer has done for us is expose a great responsibility we have as a city,” said City Manager Tim Cruikshank. “Whether this development happens or not, we now know this is our problem to fix.”

Cruikshank also said Anoka will continue to push for more recreation on the river.

“For many years this council has talked about how we redirect our attention back to the river,” he said. “We’re looking at our assets and we have to take better advantage of them. We are identifying as many ways we can use the river as possible.”

Since the city is landlocked and aging, it has to look at ways to renew its tax base, Cruikshank said.

According to City Assessor Scott Varner, once the proposed Landmark development is built out, the neighborhood could bring in at least $100,000 in property taxes to the city alone.

Varner said that could even be a conservative estimate, based on home values at an average of $400,000.

Hanson has said the homes he and his partners plan to build in the area would range from $400,000 to $750,000.

But not everyone agrees with the plan that will make the Rum River a lot less scenic in this area, at least in the short term.

“Jeanne doesn’t speak for us all,” said Grant Heino, who owns a home in Ramsey directly across the river.

Through a series of meetings with the Anoka Planning Commission and the council, Heino has been critical of the plans and has concerns about adding more people to the area, which he prefers remain in its current natural state.

Heino reported foul language, nude swimming, littering and thefts that take place on a nearby beach.

There are no signs limiting hours of use in the area and little enforcement, said Heino.

Concerns of environmental abuse and vandalism, along with a lack of enforcement of the no wake zone five miles up from the Rum River Dam at city hall, were brought up by several who live along the river.

Both Hanson and Mayor Phil Rice said adding 44 families to the area will help to calm the problems taking place because the area is largely unwatched, except for the neighbors across the river.

Tim Sheie, who co-chairs the Friends of the Anoka Nature Preserve with Wilkinson, called on the city to pursue “people powered,” low impact activities in this area – canoeing and kayaking in the summer, cross country skiing and snowshoeing in the winter.

Public Services Director Greg Lee said the city is working on plans for adding cross country ski trails both at the nature preserve and Greenhaven Golf Course.

Sheie did say he would prefer a less invasive way of dealing with the erosion, and to deal with it as it occurs.

“I don’t want to amputate my leg at risk of spraining my ankle 20 years from now,” Sheie said.

But Rice said the erosion is long past a sprained ankle.

“What we’ve got there is a cancer, or at the very least diabetes or a sore that needs to be fixed,” said Rice, who lives on the lower Rum River.

“The best time to fix this shoreline would have been 25 years ago, but we can’t do that. So the next best time to fix the shoreline is now.”

Next month the council will vote on a plat for the Rum River Shores development, which will include a bank stabilization plan.

It has also been agreed that the docks and slips that are part of the proposal will be available for lease by all Anoka residents, not just those who will be living in the new development.

Mandy Moran Froemming is at [email protected]