1/7/2022 12:31:00 PM Watershed District will not be acquiring Willow Point
The Comfort Lake Forest Lake Watershed District Board has voted unanimously to drop all considerations leading to acquisition of the parcel known as Willow Point on Forest Lake.
The five-member Board heard from the public who participated in a special on-line meeting— and after two hours, all the watershed district managers agreed the district had not made a sufficient case to buy the property.
Willow Point has been a public destination for decades. The most recent existing structure was built in 2007. Three restaurant/bar enterprises failed, and the point has been vacant since 2020. It was reportedly listed for about $2 million. Washington County on-line property tax records had it valued for taxes in 2021 at $996,000. The total parcel is almost two acres with “useable” land estimated at 1.32 acres.
The Board of Managers for the Watershed District liked the fact the property is on the shore of one of the lakes the agency was created to protect and preserve.
The current building is about 7,600 square feet and “open concept’ so re-use would be possible. Watershed District Acting Chair Jackie Anderson said the review of the site put estimated remodel costs at about $500,000.
Anderson, who resides on Comfort Lake, (there are three district managers from Washington County and two from Chisago County) added that she was surprised the appraisal provided for the special meeting did not reflect “depressed” real estate values for the relatively long-vacant parcel. She had hoped the price would be more favorable due to enterprises having tried and failed, and the time on the market. The cost was a large factor which made the acquisition unlikely for her, she stated.
Executive Director Mike Kinney said the due diligence authorized by the Board sprang from a general hope that restaurant-use properties are seeing values decline in this covid-19 impacted market.
Speakers during the on-line session pleaded during public comment to allow another commercial restuarant operator a chance to try another restaurant/bar on the lake. Citizens commenting wanted to be able to have a gathering place on the lake for a “burger and a beer” again.
Kinney explained the district has been looking for a “more permanent space” for years, where the district could set down roots and become part of the watershed environmental community, offering public programming, education and a base of operations.
The Watershed District used the old Forest Lake city hall originally. When the new Forest Lake fire hall/civic center was constructed it was located in the Rice Creek Watershed boundaries. The Comfort Lake Forest Lake Board needs to have headquarters inside that district.
Kinney explained in the on line meeting the agency leases office space in the Kodiak Coffee building on Hwy. 61 in Forest Lake, in what was formerly a salon. The Board of Managers’ meetings— before covid-19 switched everything to virtual— were held at the new civic center building, which was allowed by law but the physical location of the offices needs to be in the Comfort Lake-Forest Lake watershed.
Kinney reminded the managers that last September the 10-year plan was completed and a workload analysis has been developed generating useful information on which to base space needs.
Watershed District Manager Steve Schmalz noted what he liked about the old Willow Point location as a “phosphorus neutral” site with a specially engineered parking lot, etc. He agreed the parcel price is too high, however.
Douglas Toavs, who resides in Chisago County, called it a “fascinating piece of property” and stressed the Board should continue to evaluate sites to enhance the district mission and its public presence and accessibility.
Manager Dave Bakke said he’d expected resident “pushback” based on comments he’s heard and due to the “nature of the location” stated this site is not a good location.