Owners of a busy Coon Rapids strip mall want to banish public buses from stopping on their property.

Now Anoka County and Metro Transit, which are responsible for the bus line, are scrambling to salvage the popular stop near Wal-Mart and Cub Foods. They’ve scheduled a meeting with the owners Friday.

County officials said they were told some of the smaller businesses don’t like the loitering that comes with having a bus stop nearby. But the owners say it’s about property rights, pure and simple.

In a tersely written letter, owners of Riverdale Crossing are demanding that Anoka County “immediately discontinue” using their private property as a bus stop. A representative for the owners said it isn’t an indictment of public transit or people waiting to catch a bus, but about the right to decide how one’s property can be used.

The owners, who acquired the property in 2005, say the county never asked permission to use their private property, which is required by state law. The ownership group “has not given, and is not willing to give, such consent,” according to an April letter from the owners’ attorney.

The busy 805 bus route — which runs from Northtown Mall in Blaine, through Coon Rapids and into downtown Anoka — has been hailed since the 1990s as a successful effort in suburban mass transit. Buses on the route pick up and leave passengers at the strip mall about every 30 minutes, even though there are no signs or benches identifying it as a bus stop.

“The small stores were complaining to the mall owners that too many people were hanging around the bus stop,” said Anoka County Commissioner Scott Schulte. “I am hoping we can work with the mall owner.”

Schulte said it would be difficult to build a bus stop on the curb because the intersection, with its multiple turn lanes, is narrow and a bit dangerous.

Access vs. property rights

This is the second time in recent months that loitering around bus stops has caused consternation in Anoka County. The Anoka City Council, confronted with a wave of complaints about aggressive panhandling and loitering downtown, moved to quell the problem by limiting panhandling and overnight camping.

Jeff Carriveau, managing partner at HJ Development in Wayzata — which includes the Riverdale ownership group — said the county and Metro Transit should have asked permission and negotiated an agreement for the bus stop.

“It’s a property rights issue. They can’t use your driveway at your house without permission,” said Carriveau, arguing the county would not allow that kind of trespassing on its own land.

He said that buses stop in front of the strip mall, which affects the large number of customers who drive there to shop. He said a proper stop should be built on the curb, as it is at most other locations.

“It’s no different from them owning the property and me using it without permission,” Carriveau said, adding that unauthorized use can expose the mall owner to liability.

Anoka County Board Chairwoman Rhonda Sivarajah said she believes a compromise can be found that both serves residents and respects the mall owners’ wishes.

“We want to make sure folks who don’t have access to transportation are able to get where they need to go — to the grocery store and work,” Sivarajah said. “But we certainly respect private property rights.”

‘I’d be lost’

The Metropolitan Council funds the bus route but contracts with Anoka County to operate it. Anoka then subcontracts with First Transit to provide the service, and Metro Transit assists with route development.

Howie Padilla, spokesman for Metro Transit, said that buses are still stopping at Riverdale Crossing and that Metro Transit wants to explore options for that route and, specifically, that stop.

For some who rely on the bus, a route change would be a hardship.

Teresa Banken waited to catch the bus Thursday at Riverdale Crossing after finishing her shift at a nearby Wendy’s.

“This is scary news to me. I’d be lost,” said Banken, of Coon Rapids, who relies on bus service to travel the 5 miles to work from her home. Her car broke down several months ago and she doesn’t have the money for a new one.

“I am trying to save. It looks like it will be at least a year,” she said.

But some employees who work in the shopping center say the bus stop does result in people hanging around, sitting on benches in stores meant for customers.

Robert Loerzel, who works in the area, said it doesn’t bother him but that others have expressed discomfort.

“There are people who hang out all day,” he said.