Anoka rezones property along South Ferry Street

The Anoka City Council has agreed to rezone the properties along the South Ferry Street corridor, despite concerns from an affected property owner.

The rezoning includes the 28 parcels between the Rum River and South Ferry Street, from the intersection of Main and Ferry streets to the Mississippi River.

The changes were unanimously approved on a 4-0 vote Monday. Councilmember Jeff Weaver abstained. Weaver owns property in the South Ferry Street corridor.

According to City Attorney Scott Baumgartner, the council needed at least a two-thirds majority to approve the rezoning, which meant three votes in favor, with Weaver’s abstention.

For purposes of the city’s comprehensive plan, newly created South Ferry Riverfront District is described as mixed use. But the rezoning divides the properties into four separate sub-districts, each with specifically allowed uses.

“It’s very tightly prescribed as to the uses that are allowed in each sub area,” said Planning Director Carolyn Braun of the rezoning. “So it’s very specific, very unlike some of our other districts.”

Following a public hearing, the rezoning was unanimously approved Oct. 15 by Anoka’s Planning Commission, which was heavily involved in creating the ordinance.

The changes come as part of the city’s long-term plans to rehabilitate the corridor as a gateway to Anoka. Braun said the goals include improving views of the river and opportunities for recreation.

It has been on the council’s goal list for years.

The area had been made up of five different zoning districts – Main Street Mixed Use, B-1 Central Business, R-4 High Density Residential, B-1 Highway Business and R3 Medium and High Density Residential.

Under the new zoning, the first and most northerly district (from the Main and Ferry streets intersection to the property just north of the amphitheater) can be a mix of high density housing and a small area of commercial, with the Main Street frontage accommodating low-traffic commercial use and the Ferry Street frontage as high density residential with gardens and walking paths along the river frontage.

Subarea two sees significant change. Under the rezoning of these properties, which stretch from the amphitheater to the south and includes the Woodbury House properties, a mix of open space and low density residential will be allowed. Commercial operations for a restaurant, office or bed and breakfast are also included in the rezoning.

In subarea three, the intention is to preserve low density residential from the boundary of the Woodbury House south to the edge of Peninsula Point Park.

Subarea four includes the Carpenter’s Hall property, Peninsula Point Park and the motel/hotel property has been rezoned to encourage public and private recreation, service retail and high density residential. A marina, docking and canoe launching would also be allowed.

Braun said city staff have been in communication with all the property owners in the corridor during the planning process.

This includes Dennis and Beverly Medved, who oppose the rezoning.

Three of the Medved’s four properties on South Ferry Street, where they operate Riverplace Counseling, are now in District 2.

That area was rezoned so that in the future only low density residential or open space will allowed, along with museums, historical uses, restaurants or bed and breakfast.

But the Medveds will be allowed to continue their business providing treatment for chemical and alcohol dependency as a non-conforming use for as long as they wish, according to Braun.

The property could be sold and continue to be operated as a treatment center. Although if there were to be a change in use at the site, new zoning rules would come into play.

During Monday’s council meeting, Dennis Medved asked for the city to exempt his properties from the rezoning.

“The zoning changes put us in a precarious position,” Medved said. “We are concerned the zoning change could have an adverse impact on the value of our property, Riverplace operations and the treatment of a protected class of persons.”

The Medveds began their Riverplace Counseling operations on South Ferry Street in 1984 at 1814 S. Ferry St.

The Medved’s attorney, Marc Simpson, argued that because Riverplace Counseling treats a group of people who are part of a protected class under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Federal Fair Housing Act, the city would need a compelling reason to rezone the property.

“It’s clearly a downzoning of their property,” Simpson said. “If you are going to take adverse action against their property, against their use, it’s my belief you need to have a compelling reason for doing that under the law. The reason is being stated for that subarea two is to improve the views to the river and I just don’t believe those aesthetic reasons are compelling enough reason to downzone my client’s property.”

But Mayor Phil Rice said the protected class of people would continue to be served, as Riverplace Counseling would be allowed to stay in business as a non-conforming use.

“The properties are going to continue to function exactly as they are now,” Rice said.

Attorney Steven Munstenteiger made an emotionally charged pitch for the council to delay its decision, or exclude the Medveds’ properties from the rezoning.

Munstenteiger represented the Medveds in 1991 when they received a conditional use permit to expand their business and operate at 1806 South Ferry Street. Although unanimously approved by the council at the time, the expansion of the treatment center was a controversial issue in the community.

The Medveds would like to relocate their business and the city has had broad discussions with them about options both in and outside of Anoka, said City Manager Tim Cruikshank.

Potential locations have been considered, including the vacant cottages on the Rum River Human Services property, but the discussions have not included Anoka County, which owns the property, he said.

Finances have also not been negotiated.

“There hasn’t been anything resembling a deal,” Cruikshank said.

And for one to happen, there must be a scenario that works for both the Medveds and the city, he said.

“This is a valuable service,” Munstenteiger told the council. “It’s in the wrong place – you can change that.”

Councilmember Mark Freeburg said at this time he was not prepared to do that at the city’s expense.

He feels Riverplace Counseling’s value is in the business, not the land it occupies.

“The land isn’t worth a dime – you can’t build on it,” Freeburg said. “You have no access, ingress or egress. The business is worth money, but not the land. If you ever get acquired by government, we will have to pay you dearly.”

Munstenteiger disagrees.

“There’s no doubt in my mind, if you proceed with this ordinance you are going to get tipped over in court,” Munstenteiger said.

He also said until the city moves Riverplace out of its South Ferry Street location, “it’s going to be a pain in the neck for everybody until we get this resolved.”

“If you talk to an appraiser on the issue you will understand what we mean about the fact that our net worth is decreased when you take this action,” Munstenteiger wrote last week in a letter to the council.

During the meeting Munstenteiger said he does not have any ownership in the property or Riverplace Counseling. He does rent space to Riverplace at his office building in downtown Anoka for evening support group sessions.

Munstenteiger was confrontational with both the council and the city staff, accusing the city of trying to get back at the Medveds because of nearly 30 years of controversy over the use of their properties.

“I don’t think the city is going to move them, make them leave or curtail their operation in any kind of way,” said Councilmember Steve Schmidt. “It’s a vital operation. It’s part of the continuum of taking care of people.”

All four of the voting members of the council said they supported the treatment being done by the Medveds at Riverplace Counseling.

“The need right now is for us to take action on what we see as progress for the city of Anoka,” Rice said.

Mandy Moran Froemming is at [email protected]