A dispute in Roseville over whether to try and save the city’s former National Guard Armory is nearing an end.
Against the wishes of those who wanted to preserve the armory for use as a community center, the City Council last week signaled its preference to redevelop the site for low-density housing instead.
City officials consulted neighbors, getting what they considered a solid response: 87 comments, online or on paper. Among those comments, 69 people said they preferred single-family detached homes on the site, while the community center option drew 44 positive responses, community development chief Kari Collins told the council.
But 29 people declared that no institutional use was suitable — a hint of polarization.
Many in the area wanted the armory preserved partly because “some of our older people went to school there before it became an armory, so there’s a somewhat emotional connection” to the building, according to neighborhood leader Diane Hilden.
Mayor Dan Roe said he feels a connection with the place as well, having voted there in elections over the years. But for the city to take it on as a community center, he said, would be a “big ask.”
“We had first right of refusal,” he said, “but the council was not interested in buying the property. We didn’t have the resources to dedicate to this site and to that type of use,” especially on a fast-track time line.
Comments from neighbors show strong feelings on both sides.
“I feel a community center that can grow with the city is the best use,” one person wrote. “A safe place with a pool, after-school programs, and possibly a decent theater or entertainment venue would be wonderful.”
Another countered: “I don’t think it’s necessary to preserve the old building on the site. I’m not comfortable that some people are trying to ram the idea to save the building down our throats.”
The structures on the site at 211 N. McCarrons Blvd. date as far back as 1936. McCarrons School was built on land that had been a dairy farm, north of Lake McCarrons and west of Rice Street, in the city’s southeast corner, officials said. The National Guard took over the building in 1981.
A year ago, officials were notified of the city’s right to buy the building. They declined months later, and then Ramsey County also passed on it.
The site is now to be sold on the open market. Its current zoning is “institutional,” but that will change to low-density residential.
Hilden issued a statement indicating disappointment that the city seemed uninterested in engaging with neighbors who “organized community efforts and petitions, offered information on possible collaborations with the school district, including site plan suggestions pro bono from respected local engineers and architects, as well as alternative possible uses of the former armory.”
Roe stressed that many steps remain before anything is done with the site, including wooded and open areas that neighbors have used.
“Our vote was to initiate a process to rezone to single-family residential,” he said. “We will have an open house with the neighborhood to get feedback before it is forwarded to the planning commission for a formal public hearing, is acted on by them, and by the City Council.”