A 15-acre site adjacent to the Riverdale Northstar Commuter Rail station in Coon Rapids will soon be placed on the market.
The vacant property is owned by the Anoka County Regional Rail Authority, which comprises the seven members of the Anoka County Board, and by consensus, the authority’s management committee has agreed to put it up for sale.
According to Tim Yantos, rail authority executive director, the authority had owned the property for 10 years and believes the timing is right to sell it.
“The county is working with the city of Coon Rapids on marketing and developing the property,” Yantos said.
In 2010, following a 2008 transit-oriented development study on the 15 acres which involved public participation, the Coon Rapids City Council adopted an ordinance creating a transit oriented development district for the land.
Under the ordinance, the district would comprise a mix of uses, building types, streets and landscaping with the goal of providing a transition between the existing uses in the area – residential areas across the railroad tracks and Northdale Boulevard and commercial and retail in the form of the Riverdale Commons Shopping Center to the west.
A mix of townhouses, apartments or condominiums, mixed use buildings, parking structures and live/work buildings have been proposed for the site under the ordinance.
The ordinance calls for a pedestrian friendly environment including landscaping.
At the time of the ordinance adoption in 2010, Community Development Director Marc Nevinski said that no single-family residential homes would be allowed in the district.
Nevinski described the live/work concept, which would be new to Coon Rapids, as being a mix of commercial and residential with office or retail on the first floor and residential quarters for business owners on the floors above.
Under the transit oriented development ordinance, non-residential permitted uses would be retail sales, restaurants without drive-through, financial institutions without drive-through, medical and professional offices, parking structures, bakeries, delis, coffee shops, day cares, neighborhood services and physical fitness centers not to exceed 3,000 square feet.
Late in 2010, some 500 acres around the Riverdale Station, including the 15 acres of county property, was approved as a transportation improvement area by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.
The state agency was given authority by the 2008 Minnesota Legislature to award transit improvement area designations to land near commuter rail, light rail and bus rapid transit stations.
While the state did not provide any funding for transportation improvement area projects, it did allow the designated areas to be eligible for financing from other sources.
Earlier this year the Metropolitan Council completed a market and development viability study of the areas around each of the Northstar Corridor rail stations.
The purpose of the Corridors of Opportunity study was to provide communities with current market data, an understanding of the viability of potential development scenarios and ways of attracting development around the station areas, according to Nevinski said.
The county’s decision to market the 15 acres came on the heels of the Metropolitan Council study, Nevinski said.
The study concludes that transit oriented development scenarios for the Riverdale area come with funding shortfalls that inhibit project viability, he said.
Apartment and townhome rents would be too low, there would be a need to reduce development costs and there would not be much demand for commercial uses due to location, visibility, access and the Riverdale shopping area, Nevinski said.
But the study did point out specific or unique characteristics of the Riverdale area – draw demographics in terms of population, households and average household income; housing tenure; and multi-family development opportunities.
The findings of the study were presented to the Coon Rapids City Council at a work session late last month.
The council had concerns about residential rental units at the location and would prefer to see owner occupied housing or commercial uses with job creation.
Discussions between the county rail authority and city staff have revolved around the marketing approach.
According to Nevinski, the options are to simply put the land up for sale or take a more active role and seek a developer who will leverage the station and Riverdale shopping area “as assets to create a signature development.”
“At this time, it appears the latter option has more support and city and county staff have been researching and discussing the details around actively marketing the property,” Nevinski said.
Part of the discussion has involved the potential hiring of the consulting firm, Ehlers and Associates, to work on a plan to find a developer with whom county and city can work on the project, he said.
How much that would cost won’t be known until the scope of work that Ehlers will be asked to undertake is determined, Nevinski said.
It is important that the city be involved in this process because while the county rail authority owns the land, the city controls the zoning, infrastructure and any financial tools that might be used, he said.
Peter Bodley is at firstname.lastname@example.org