Concerns have risen in recent weeks regarding the sale of tax-forfeited lots in Crow Wing County, particularly in Breezy Point. However, county officials feel those concerns may be premature and ultimately misplaced.
The sale of these lots - controlled entirely by the county - will not take place until Friday, July 24, in a public auction, according to the Crow Wing County Housing and Redevelopment Authority. A developer’s application for the purchase of 60 of the 143 lots has been submitted to the county, but no developer’s agreement is in place at this point, although it appears his intentions are to build “workforce” housing on the lots.
“We are in the infancy stages,” HRA Rehab Coordinator John Schommer said. “Really, you can’t be any less into it right now … We are at the first step.”
More than 400 parcels of county land will be up for auction, and all developer’s agreements will be worked out after the sale.
“The (county) commissioners have spoken and said, 'We want to offer these to the general public first,’ so we just have to see what’s left,” Schommer said. “If the developer would like to continue pursuing, we will wait for his proposed agreement and go from there. At this point, all I have is an application and a list of tracts he is interested in.”
The majority of county lots to be sold at auction - which is open to anyone - will have a starting bid price of 25% below market value. Rumors have circulated that the lots were being sold for $1 each, but that is the price at which the HRA can purchase the lots, not any developers. The HRA then applies its fees before being able to sell lots at a somewhat reduced price.
“The whole goal is to get these tax-forfeited lots back on the tax roll,” Schommer said. “Ultimately, if we can build affordable workforce housing, that is one of the goals, as we have been told.”
Breezy Point City Administrator Patrick Wussow said the developer had stated his intentions to build houses on the Breezy Point lots ranging between $200,000 and $400,000, though that is subject to change until a developer’s agreement is in place.
“We have an application, but that is all the further we have made it,” Schommer said.
The auction will take place at 10 a.m. Friday, July 24, at the Land Services Building in Brainerd. The sale is open to anybody, and interested buyers may contact land service staff for more information.
Crow Wing County Board weighs in
In a 4-1 decision, the Crow Wing County Board voted June 23 to return the empty parcels to the public land sale auction in July — parcels removed from the list as the Crow Wing County HRA worked to hash out an agreement with the housing developer based in Holdingford.
Commissioner Bill Brekken, who represents Breezy Point on the county board, voted against the motion. The decision came after the board approved a request for action from Land Services Director Gary Griffin in late May to reduce the value by 25% of any tax-forfeited tracts left unsold for three years or more.
Griffin told the board the developer - identified as Bob Warzecha with HBW LLC in HRA materials - first intended to acquire 130-150 parcels before amending his request to about half that. These lots are scattered throughout the city, which is home to the highest concentration of tax-forfeited property in the county.
In light of the board’s decision to reduce the value of unsold tracts, Griffin asked commissioners whether they were interested in making those parcels available to the public first, rather than allowing the HRA to proceed with the developer’s request.
Weighing in at the meeting via Microsoft Teams were Mark Miller, a Breezy Point resident and owner of MJ Builders of MN, Breezy Point City Council member Michael Moroni and resident Todd Roggenkamp. All three voiced support for the idea of making the land available during the public sale.
“I know a lot of people in Breezy Point that support this,” said Miller, who also serves on the city’s planning commission. “I think given the opportunity the county will see a large influx of purchasing at the July 24 auction that will bring in, you know, market value dollars for Crow Wing County.”
Not everyone in Breezy Point supports the interruption of the developer’s plans to work with HRA in building homes on the empty lots, many of which have languished on the county’s tax-forfeit list for years.
Mayor Tom Lillehei said by phone he had high hopes for the potential development. In a “Mayor’s Notebook” published on the city’s Facebook page June 19, Lillehei described the developer’s interest as “perhaps the most exciting event since I took office.”
He said the developer was doing his homework and seeking innovative solutions that could result in a major housing boom in the area. But he said he was disappointed with the county commissioners’ decision and felt as though they did not have all the information. This included the timeline of events, which Lillehei said was incorrectly relayed to board members. While Moroni told the board the developer came to light after the decision to reduce tax-forfeited values, Lillehei said he knew of the plans in late April, and Griffin said his office learned on May 15 of Warzecha’s HRA application.
“We’re looking at a developer that is willing to develop a large number of city lots into buildable homes and now all of a sudden it’s jerked out from under him,” Lillehei said during an interview. “You can probably tell I’m a little frustrated by that.”
He also noted he felt opposition to the developer’s plans was based in part on misinformation and bigotry shared on social media, claiming the new homes would be Section 8 housing and part of a plot to relocate Somali-Americans to the area.
Chelsey Perkins, Brainerd Dispatch Community Editor, provided the Crow Wing County Board action and mayor's reaction portions of this story.