Updated: December 03, 2021 07:38 PM
Created: December 03, 2021 06:18 PM
The future of a prime piece of commercial real estate in Forest Lake has yet to be determined, but a growing number of residents have been gearing up for a fight ever since they learned one of the potential buyers was a government agency.
The Comfort Lake Forest Lake Watershed District is considering whether to make an offer on the site of a former restaurant that is now listed for sale at $2.1 million.
Dan Coates is a lifelong Forest Lake resident and has been among those organizing opposition to the idea.
"The last thing I could see us spending taxpayers' dollars on is buying one of the most expensive parcels of land on Forest Lake and I thought it was a waste of money," Coates said.
A Facebook group formed last month to oppose the watershed district's acquisition of the property already has about 1,200 members including local business owners such as Blake Roberts.
"If they were to come and do this, it would come off the tax rolls," Roberts said. "This building is assessed at and pays about $30,000 a year in property taxes. Obviously, if a government entity comes in, that goes away. "
Watershed district managers insist they are still only in the "process of investigation" and have made no offer on the Willow Point property.
Mike Kinney, the district administrator, says the agency has been looking to move out of its current location in downtown Forest Lake for years.
"We settled on the current location only because it was the space available in downtown," Kinney said. "As a former hair salon, it's not very well suited, space-wise, for our needs."
Kinney says an outside party suggested the more than 7,000 square foot property to the district's board earlier this year. The watershed district currently has a full-time staff of eleven people.
"From a sheer office space standpoint, do we need that? I would say no, but if we're going to do other public engagement... what would that kind of property bring to the community as a public space?" Kinney said.
He and district managers say parts of the building could be used for a lab and additional space could be made available to schools and other community groups.
Kinney called any plans "super preliminary."
Meeting minutes from a watershed district board meeting in September show members unanimously approved a "letter of intent for purchase" on the property, but Kinney said the seller was not receptive to such a letter and the property remains on the market.
District board managers say they are waiting on the results of a full cost-benefit analysis but will consider holding a public meeting later this month to hear feedback from the community.
"They see through a lot of projects in this area and they've done a great job," Coates said. "I personally just don't think that buying this property for millions of dollars is going to benefit the Forest Lake community."
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