With Anoka County purchasing almost every home on Blaine’s side of University Avenue between 109th and 111th avenues, the city of Blaine is contemplating redevelopment options that could coincide with a reconstructed county road.
With the Anoka County Highway Department having already purchased nine single-family homes between 109th and 111th avenues for the 2014 reconstruction of University Avenue, the executive director of the Anoka County Community Action Program believes the timing is right to replace older single-family homes with a newer housing stock that will bring more affordable rental units to the market.
“There is a need in Anoka County for affordable rental housing,” said Patrick McFarland, who leads the community action program that assists new homebuyers, but which also owns approximately 400 rental housing units throughout the county.
Four of these units are on the northeast corner of 109th and University avenues. It leases these homes to RISE, Inc. for its transitional housing program, according to McFarland.
Blaine Community Development Director Bryan Schafer at the Blaine City Council’s Dec. 12 workshop presented ACCAP’s plan to develop up to five townhome buildings that would have six units each for a total of 30 units.
Schafer said the two-story buildings would be separated by green space and a stormwater pond is necessary for the road project, so these buildings would not be tightly packed together.
The catch is there are two other privately-owned single-family homes built in the late 1980s that would need to be purchased to make ACCAP’s proposed development possible. These homes are just north of the ACCAP homes and south of the nine single-family homes the county purchased for a range of $95,000 and $142,414 between June 6 and Oct. 1.
The ACCAP homes are nine single-family homes the county purchased were all built in 1952. Two additional homes were constructed separately in 1988 and 1989, according to county records. These homes are set back further from the road, so the county did not pursue these properties when seeking right of way for the University Avenue project, according to Anoka County Highway Engineer Doug Fischer.
“I don’t want to see these two homeowners forced out,” Councilmember Mike Bourke said. “Other than that, I don’t have a problem with the project. I’d want to hear what the neighbors have to say.”
McFarland, who stressed that ACCAP is still early in the planning stages for this project, believes neighbors will be supportive because the two-story townhome buildings would continue to provide a buffer from University Avenue to which the neighborhood behind the existing homes has grown accustomed, he said.
McFarland said the last time University Avenue was expanded about 20 years ago, the county highway department was going to knock these four homes down and neighbors did not want this to happen. ACCAP instead decided to purchase these properties.
Seeking city contribution
If ACCAP is able to purchase the two 1980s homes, it would like the Blaine Economic Development Authority to financially contribute to making this project a reality. Schafer said ACCAP is requesting an EDA contribution of up to $450,000.
The EDA includes all members of the Blaine City Council, but is considered the development arm of the community. It has taxing authority, which has largely gone unused aside from a proposed $150,000 levy in 2014. The primary funding sources have been selling its land and pooled tax increment financing from other areas of the community.
Councilmember Dave Clark asked Schafer what the area would look like if the EDA decided to not contribute to the project.
Schafer said the county may just leave the area undeveloped and mow the grass. If this area is redeveloped, each housing unit could add $30,000 to $35,000 to the community’s tax base, he said.
“We’re responding to council comments over the last four to five years that we’re not doing enough to redevelop along University Avenue,” Schafer said.
McFarland said ACCAP would work closely with RISE to discuss continuing to lease some units for its transitional housing program, but a lot of the units would be what he calls “workforce housing,” meaning it would be affordable housing for a working family.
The units “would be affordable based on the rental market,” but he said the range would also depend on the stipulations of the financial packages ACCAP receives.
Councilmember Dick Swanson said he was not sure if he was super-enthused about the project, but he feels the proposal is a better option than leaving these homes there next to open spaces the county may not maintain.
Councilmember Russ Herbst said his concern is that the city does not get in the habit of financing these projects, but said it makes sense in this case.
“A private developer isn’t going to touch that,” Clark said.
Bourke said upgrading housing in this stretch could jump-start redevelopment elsewhere, such as the southeast corner of University and 109th avenues.
“We’re at least sending a message to the commercial that we do care and we are doing something,” Swanson said.
Eric Hagen is at email@example.com