A tall, wooded bluff overlooking the rustic Rum River has undergone a $275,000 makeover to stabilize its undercut bank and prepare the way for a public dock, bike trail and the Rum River Shores upscale development.

The regrading project in Anoka attracted criticism from area residents who opposed the clear-cutting that the work on the 700-foot-long stretch of river bank entailed. But the Anoka Conservation District manager warned that the eroded bank could cave in, taking a soon-to-be-paved bike trail with it. Manager Chris Lord said that now was the time to restore the bank, when developer Dean Hanson had agreed to contribute $175,000 worth of equipment and manpower to clear and regrade it to mitigate river erosion. The city contributed $100,000 for the restoration project.

Hanson has agreed to pay the city $10,000 for each of the 44 single-family lots in Rum River Shores. City officials have said the development fills a housing gap and will be the first luxury home neighborhood built in Anoka in a few decades.

After seeing photos of the graded, vegetation-free bank at last week's City Council meeting, Mayor Phil Rice said, "It looks remarkable, not a tree in sight. It's real disappointing, but it is the beginning of the healing process on that river. … It's progress."

The City Council unanimously approved the project and housing subdivision in early August, figuring that losing a handful of 150-year-old bur oaks and the bluff 's wilderness look for five or 10 years was worth the gain of long-term bank stability. Lord said 230 large shrubs and trees — 5- to 10-foot-tall oaks, maples, pines and others — will be planted this fall on the cleared bank. About 2,000 willow shoots, which grow strong root systems, will be inserted between the large rocks in a riprap strip along the bank's edge on the river.

"It's going to be a while until it looks natural again," Lord said, adding it will take five to seven years before the trees branch out and up. He said the developer has followed district directives on grading and installing riprap rocks on the bank toe. "They have done the job they promised," Lord said.

He noted that a pair of large rain gardens and a runoff pond will be created atop the bluff. The bike trail will start at the existing trail end at the Bunker Lake Boulevard bridge over the Rum, and gradually climb up and across the graded bank to the main preserve, Lord said.

Rice said the project is ahead of schedule and that the developer plans to build three model homes this fall. He said Hanson Builders reports that it has already sold two homes, has started excavating for sewers, and plans to lay the first asphalt layer for streets in October.

The city owns the river bank, but because it is part of the adjacent 200-acre Anoka Nature Preserve, the Anoka Conservation District holds an easement controlling its use. The district's board approved the project, as has the state Department of Natural Resources, which has a say because the Rum is a state Wild and Scenic River.

The 22.5-acre housing site is a former soybean field sitting across Bunker Lake Boulevard from Anoka High School. The site has a county library to the east, the Rum on the west and the Anoka Nature Preserve on its north side. Besides the 44 homes, priced from $400,000 to $650,000, the subdivision will include a clubhouse, swimming pool, fountains and other amenities. The city will install a $40,000, portable, six-slip dock and hold a lottery for city residents who want to pay $1,000 a year for a slip.

Friends of the Anoka Nature Preserve and Ramsey residents across the river objected to the bluff makeover. But Friends co-leader Jeanne Wilkinson said she has watched the bluff transformation and was impressed by how carefully the riprap rocks were installed by a mechanical arm from a floating platform. Wilkinson said she looks forward to new trees on the bluff and hopes the public attention generated will attract improvements and more people to the preserve.

She said the biggest concern of the Friends, which lobbied the City Council to set aside land for the preserve, was that the group wasn't informed of the bluff redo until late in the review process.

"We were taken by surprise by the whole thing," said Wilkinson, who lives on the river downstream in Anoka. "We'll have to go through some growing pangs. … You kind of get over it."

Jim Adams • 612-673-7658