Anoka to take another look at vision for downtown development

Despite an appealing proposal for 55-plus cooperative housing north of city hall, the Anoka City Council has put the brakes on development of city-owned property in the Historic Rum River District while it retools its plans.

The council had long hoped for a mixed use scenario on the river, including retail on the main level with residential above.

It has also been a goal to have a riverfront restaurant.

But neither of those wish-list items were included when Lifestyle Communities and Ecumen pitched a 61-unit senior cooperative building along the Rum River.

“We considered the vertical mixed use and we looked really hard at that,” said Tim Nichol of Lifestyle Communities.

But he said living above retail stores wasn’t something they felt the 55-plus buyers of the cooperative units would want, suggesting the vacant land north of the city’s parking ramp as a better site for commercial development.

He described those buyers as being active and involved, moving into a condo because it suits their lifestyle and they want to, not because they need to.

“This is not senior living,” he said.

While the concept was well received by the council, some members balked at the location.

At a work session in April, Councilmember Mark Freeburg said he had concerns about the cooperative on this particular site, including the intrusive height of the building and a lack of parking.

“That’s a prime spot for us,” Freeburg said of the riverfront property. “We’ve always had our thoughts on something different there.”

Councilmember Jeff Weaver shared Freeburg’s concerns over the building’s height, which would block the view of the river.

“I like the product and I think there’s a place for it in Anoka,” Weaver said.

There was also much discussion about parking, with Weaver noting that there were only four or five of the 99 spots open on a recent weekend.

“I have concerns that we’re not ready to displace 99 people,” Weaver said.

But Mayor Phil Rice said if the city wants that land to be a parking lot, “then we ought to take the ‘for sale’ sign down.”

Since then, the city has formed the Historic Rum River District Planning Committee, which Economic Development Manager ErikThorvig said will take another look at plans for the city-owned parcels once planned to be developed by Rottlund Homes.

“We decided it might be time to take a look again at sites one and two because there wasn’t a consensus as far as what should go there,” Thorvig said.

Decided on a coin toss between Councilmembers Freeburg and Weaver, both interested in sitting on the committee, Freeburg will represent the council, along with city staff and representatives from the Planning Commission, Economic Development Commission, Park Board, Anoka Business and Landowners Association, Anoka Area Chamber of Commerce, and a resident of the Historic Rum River District condo development.

According to Thorvig, the group will start meeting in July and plans to have a vision by the end of the year that will address land use, building size and parking demands.

According to Thorvig, planning for the area dates back to the 1990s when property acquisition began, which was followed up by a Heart of Anoka committee formed in the early 2000s.

A master plan was established in 2006.

Because the council did like the development proposal but had concerns about the site, Thorvig said talks would continue with the group to look at other alternatives within the community.

During open forum at a recent council meeting, an Anoka resident said he hoped the council would approve a development that includes a senior co-op, that it was just what the community needed and the type of housing he would be interested in buying.

Mandy Moran Froemming is at [email protected]