Eminent domain awards rejected; Anoka to pay costs: Anoka County (MN) Union, 2/16/06

By L A Jones

Downzoning multiple-family districts in Anoka has been a controversial issue enough. But now Anoka will also have to considerably downsize its ambitious plans for the North Central Business District (NCBD).

Court-appointed commissioners in charge of determining condemnation awards in eminent domain proceedings for four parcels owned by Tom Boros and for a single parcel owned by Andy Morse along Third Avenue and Van Buren and Harrison streets within the NCBD recently presented the numbers in Anoka County District Court.

The parcels are located at 228 Harrison St., 229 and 241 VanBuren St. and 2215 and 2223 Third Ave.

And the Anoka City Council, in executive closed session prior to its regular meeting Feb. 6, reviewed these numbers awarded by the commissioners, which the Anoka County Union obtained from a source and independently verified.

For the single Morse parcel alone, an appraiser hired by the city valued the property at $250,000. The subsequent award by commissioners was for $432,283 – rejected along with the four other awards for the Boros parcels as part of the council’s consent agenda Feb. 6. No addition to the council’s regular meeting agenda was announced by the mayor or council members at the start of the regular Feb. 6 session.

Awards of $435,375, 311,825, 427,635 and 485,298 for the four Boros parcels, as verified by his legal counsel, Dave Oslund, were also rejected by the council as part of its consent agenda.

The five awards totaled $2,092,416. And according to Community Development Director Bob Kirchner, the city will no longer pursue obtaining the parcels to be included in the NCBD redevelopment effort.

The portion of the NCBD occupied by the properties, although part of the proposed redevelopment effort, would have likely followed plans for those areas along Second Avenue and to the north, above the older lumber yard site.

“It could have been a second or third phase,” Kirchner said.

Kirchner told the Anoka County Union that the city’s expenses for proceeding with eminent domain and rejecting the bids had not yet been determined. Regardless, any unit of government rejecting an award from the court for condemnation must pay all legal and other costs of those who have been taken to court for condemnation – in this case the costs incurred by both Boros and Morse.

The council on a 3-1 vote May 16, 2005 authorized eminent domain proceedings against the parcels. Councilmember Dori Schumacher excused herself from the vote because of a possible conflict of interest, and Mayor Bjorn Skogquist voted no.

It was Skogquist’s opinion at the time that the two men who want to redevelop own these properties, according to the May 16, 2005 council minutes. The city has given time to the rest of the area, but has not given time to these men who might want to participate on their own without any intervention by the city, Skogquist said.

Kirchner at the May 16, 2005 meeting, according to the minutes, said there had been an ongoing and fairly long discussion with both property owners about the acquisition of these properties. There had been discussion of Boros being a developer himself and he did bring in a plan for this whole area, according to Kirchner.

However, two weeks later he took the plan back, Kirchner said. In both cases there had been an attempt to begin negotiations for purchase, including trying to obtain access for appraisals and relocation assessments, which had not been successful, he said.

Appearing before and perhaps forewarning the council on Nov. 7, 2005, Erik Skogquist, 1815 3rd Ave., said eminent domain is sometimes a necessary thing, but in some cases this has been expanded to include things like redevelopment projects and economic development.

Responding to a bill the U.S. House of Representatives had been discussing about the way cities had been using eminent domain, Erik Skogquist said it was his understanding that at the time the city started dealing with these properties, the property owners were willing to work with Anoka.

According to the Nov. 7, 2005 minutes, Erik Skogquist said he did not know what happened to those negotiations, but now there was a hearing scheduled on Dec. 14 to discuss the city’s appraisal and taking of the properties.

All of the sudden it went from working together to fighting each other and butting heads, Erik Skogquist said, addressing the council

Additionally, Erik Skogquist said he understood there were times to use eminent domain, but he thought this was an example of the city abusing eminent domain.

In response to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling upholding the right of communities to use eminent domain in such cases, numerous bills have been mentioned by lawmakers prior to the 2006 session of the Minnesota Legislature beginning March 1.

Anoka County Union: http://www.abcnewspapers.com