In Richfield, moving hopes revived

Homeowners on street pegged for development in limbo for years.

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Neighbors on 17th Avenue S. in Richfield have been waiting years for the city to buy homes on their street for development. “We’re very happy something is finally happening,” said Andy Hartle, right.

Photo: Renee Jones Schneider, Star Tribune

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Andy Hartle is tired of patching the 35-year-old roof on his Richfield house, and he worries about teetering front steps that are dropping chunks of concrete.

For more than a decade, he's justified the neglect by telling himself there's no sense in repairing a home that could be bought out and razed at any time.

Hartle lives on 17th Avenue S. across from Home Depot and SuperTarget stores north of E. 66th Street, one of 13 remaining homeowners who have been in limbo since their property was pegged for developments that never materialized.

Now, two projects have revived the possibility that the city will buy their homes, finally. Homeowners who want to sell could be out as early as this fall.

"We're very happy something is finally happening," said Hartle, who has lived on the street for 40 years with his wife, Trisha. "We want to get out of here."

At a recent city meeting for affected homeowners, most of those who were present indicated they'd be willing sellers if the price were right.

Until homes on the east side of the Hartles' street were razed in 2004 for the shopping complex, 17th Avenue S. was a quiet cul-de-sac. Now thousands of customers visit the area each day. Despite city rules directing semitrailer trucks to the rear of the complex and other requirements that are supposed to limit activity at night, neighbors say they have put up with speeding traffic, giant trucks that go the wrong way to unload and recently a noisy visit by landscapers who worked all night mulching plantings that edge the complex.

When the shopping center was built, senior apartments had been planned for the west side of 17th Avenue S. But those plans fell apart when the economy nose-dived. Since then, homeowners say the value of their homes has dropped dramatically. Even if they could find a buyer, many were unwilling to sell at a reduced price. So they have waited, letting paint peel and spending as little as possible on maintenance.

Home values determined

Residents have been incredibly patient, said Mike Eastling, Richfield's director of public works. With two projects affecting 17th Avenue S., he said, the city thought it made sense to do both at the same time and acquire the remaining 13 homes that are in private hands. The city has already purchased one home that was in foreclosure.

At the resident meeting, representatives of eight of the 13 households on the street were present, Eastling said. He said all but one, the daughter of an elderly couple who had not yet returned from their winter residence, indicated they would be interested in selling.

Later this month, the City Council will be asked to authorize the hiring of appraisers so homeowners can find out what they might get for their property. If residents want to proceed, they'd have to petition the city. The city would buy the homes, which would be owned by the city's Housing and Redevelopment agency until the land is further developed.

It would be up to the City Council to decide whether to proceed, a decision that could become sensitive if some residents do not want to sell.

Two projects have jumpstarted the process. Richfield needs about 25 feet of right-of-way on 17th Avenue S. for the Intercity Regional Trail that will connect Minneapolis' biking and walking trails to the Minnesota River in Bloomington. And the city needs to reroute the street in connection with a large storm water project near the Home Depot store.

Eventually, Eastling said, the street will become a parkway, with a 25 mile-per-hour speed limit and the adjacent Three Rivers Park District Intercity trail running alongside it. The parkway would have a new leg that jogs to the west to build a connection to nearby Bloomington Avenue, requiring the acquisition of three more homes.

Seeing is believing

The city still hopes that a senior development will someday be built west of 17th Avenue S., meaning more homes eventually could be affected by development. But for now, the focus is on the line of homes that face the shopping complex. If all goes well, the city could begin buying homes in September and construction work could start next spring.

After years of uncertainty, residents aren't counting on anything.

"I'm feeling semi-optimistic, but I'm waiting until I see an appraiser at the door," Trisha Hartle said.

Her next-door neighbor, Layne Rosin, is ready to move.

"But I'm not getting too excited," he said. "When I get a check in my hand, I will believe it."

Mary Jane Smetanka • 612-673-7380 Twitter: @smetan

  • WHAT'S NEXT

    City Council will hire appraisers to see what the properties are worth. Homeowners could move as early as September.

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