The owners of the Mad Hatter Restaurant & Tea House plan to buy the historic home in which it operates from the city of Anoka.
Despite controversy over whether the city should have the option to run a trail through the site, the City Council on Feb. 4 gave preliminary approval for the sale of the Woodbury House to TLK Enterprises for $807,000. Final approval is expected Feb. 19.
Built in 1857, the house is located at 1631 Ferry St. Dwight Woodbury, who would soon become a state legislator, purchased the mansion from Dr. Samuel Shaw in 1860. More recently it served as home to former state Rep. John Weaver.
The Anoka Housing and Redevelopment Authority bought the riverfront property in 2012, and the city purchased it from the HRA for $330,000 the next year.
In 2014 The Mad Hatter relocated to the house and leased it from the city with an agreement to rehabilitate the building.
Now Mad Hatter owners Tim and Liz Koch want to purchase the two-story house and its 2.3 acres of land, and the city wants to return it to the tax rolls.
The purchase agreement is a 40-year contract for deed, with no money down. Initially that worried some council members, but they felt comfortable with the arrangement after learning the Kochs had already invested time and money in improving the building.
“They’ve put a lot of their blood, sweat and tears and sweat equity and cash into this project,” Council Member Brian Wesp said.
Another issue that threatened the purchase agreement was the question of whether the city should give up its right to build a trail along the bluff line of the property. Although the city has an easement near the bluff line, the purchase agreement states the city cannot build a trail on the easement without consent of the owners, as long as the property remains a restaurant.
Last year a community task force created draft plans for a “Riverwalk,” a trail system eventually intended for the west side of the Rum River. The committee couldn’t agree whether the trail should follow the bluff line behind the Woodbury House or swing around the front of the house along Ferry Street, so both options were left in the draft plan.
Council Member Erik Skogquist, who sat on the task force, said he didn’t want to give up the option of building the trail on the bluff line, so he voted against the agreement.
“I think it’s too short-sighted of us to brush that aside and say we’re not going to allow that,” he said.
Council Member Mark Freeburg said if it were a question of completing a connection, he might agree, but that’s not the case.
“We’ve got an option to go around it, not through it,” Freeburg said.
At a work session Jan. 28, Council Member Elizabeth Barnett seemed to agree with Skogquist, but on Feb. 4 she said she’d walked the property and realized just how close a bluff-line trail would be to the restaurant.
The council voted 4-1 to approve the purchase agreement. Skogquist dissented, saying he supported the project but disagreed about use of the easement.
City Manager Greg Lee praised the sale, saying taxpayers are recovering their entire investment in the property, plus interest.
“This is one of the greatest success stories in the city of Anoka,” Lee told the council Jan. 28. “We’ve got a very historic building that needed a lot of help and ... it is so beautiful now.”
“The Woodbury House is still a source of pride for this community,” Wesp said.