Year in Review 2021 image for web.jpg

A lot happened in Anoka County in 2021. Here ABC Newspapers staff presents a look at some of the year’s top stories. The list isn't exhaustive, and we haven't attempted to rank stories in order of importance, but we offer them as a reflection on the past year as we bid farewell to 2021 and welcome 2022.

Events return as pandemic restrictions lift

After a year of few events and almost no summer festivals due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2021 event calendar filled up quickly after Gov. Tim Walz eased pandemic-related restrictions on businesses, events and other gatherings beginning in the spring.

Many events retained some precautions to help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, but the summer and fall event schedules largely returned to normal. An exception was Fridley ‘49er Days, an early summer festival that announced its cancellation in April, when the duration of COVID-19 restrictions was still unknown.

But other events drew crowds of people eager to return to normal. Anoka Riverfest saw a record turnout.

Andover’s Family Fun Fest celebrated its 25th anniversary this year, and Columbia Heights’ Jamboree was part of the city’s centennial celebration. The ever-popular Coon Rapids fireworks and the Anoka County Fair were also among the many events that returned.

New youth mental health facility closes abruptly

A youth mental health facility in East Bethel closed last summer, a little more than a year after opening.

Cambia Hills, a $26 million complex for children ages 6-17, closed at 3 p.m. Friday, June 11.

“After many years of finding the right community to build in, construction starts and delays, opening the doors during a pandemic (which brought about staffing challenges and affected the census and thus, our ability to pay for this facility), licensing issues, and bad press, we are forced to close our doors,” Leslie Chaplin, president of The Hills Youth and Family Services, wrote in a letter to community partners posted on Cambia Hills’ website.

Constructed on a 37-acre wooded lot at 900 189th Ave. NE, Cambia Hills was the first purpose-built psychiatric residential treatment facility for children in Minnesota. It aimed to provide secure, high-observation care in a non-hospital setting for children experiencing complex mental illness.

Chaplin blamed a “perfect storm” of challenges, including the pandemic, for the closure, but she also singled out the Minnesota Department of Human Services.

“A significant piece of this perfect storm is that the state of MN DHS has not given us the rate adjustment our bondholders have been waiting for,” she wrote. The state paid for much of the care provided at Cambia Hills.

But a Department of Human Services spokesperson said a rate increase was never guaranteed and that DHS must submit proposed rates to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services for approval.

Anoka-Hennepin settles lawsuit by transgender former student

The Anoka-Hennepin School District reached a $300,000 settlement in March with a transgender former student after the district barred him from using the boys locker room in 2016. The district also agreed to policy changes.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota, the school district agreed to the following steps to avoid discrimination in the future:

• Affirming students of all gender identities that they are welcome in the district and valued.

• Developing a policy to allow every student to use all facilities consistent with their gender identity.

• Training all school board members, staff and students on the policy.

In 2016 the district told the Coon Rapids High School student he couldn’t use the boys locker room with the rest of the boys swim team.

The district later added an “enhanced privacy” bathroom with changing facilities that the boy was meant to use. The district threatened to discipline the student if he didn’t use the special facilities, according to the lawsuit, although the consequences were never specified.

After being singled out by the district, the student was then bullied, according to the ACLU. In April 2017 he was hospitalized for the third time for mental health issues related to the situation.

His mother then transferred him out of the district.

In 2020 the state Court of Appeals found the incident violated the Minnesota Human Rights Act and the Minnesota Constitution. In its opinion it wrote that the Minnesota Human Rights Act “prohibits segregating and separating transgender students with respect to locker-room use.”

“The district is committed to providing a safe and respectful learning environment for all students and families including transgender and gender nonconforming students,” The school district said in a statement. “The Court of Appeals notes the district’s approach in the majority opinion by stating, ‘We are sympathetic to all parties involved and readily acknowledge the task the school district faced as it sought to balance the privacy interests of all of its students while addressing issues that are of first impression in Minnesota.’”

Police dog injured in shootout, awarded K-9 Purple Heart

Two Blaine shoplifting suspects led officers on a pursuit Feb. 21 that ended with a shootout near Braham, where one suspect was shot and killed and an Anoka Police Department K-9 was injured. The injured dog, Bravo, later received a K-9 Purple Heart for his actions.

The suspect, who was fatally shot multiple times, was identified by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension as Dominic Lucas Koch, 27, of St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin.

The other suspect, Joseph William Heroff, 26, of Hammond, Wisconsin, pleaded guilty to first-degree aggravated robbery. Heroff was sentenced to seven years and nine months in prison, stayed for 15 years. If he successfully completes 15 years of supervised probation, he won’t serve the prison time. The terms of his probation include one year in the Anoka County Jail, on work release if eligible, with credit for 158 days served. He must also pay more than $13,000 in restitution.

The incident began when Blaine police officers responded to reports of shoplifting at Kohl’s on Baltimore Street in Blaine.

Heroff and Koch, the suspects, began to flee in a stolen vehicle. When police disabled the vehicle, Heroff and Koch fled on foot before carjacking a pickup and fleeing north on Highway 65, according to the complaint.

When their vehicle left the road just north of Highway 107, Koch and Heroff again fled on foot, the complaint says. Heroff was quickly apprehended by officers, but Koch continued to flee and at one point was struck by a civilian’s vehicle, causing him to lose his weapon, according to the complaint.

Anoka police officer Jake Sorteberg deployed K-9 Bravo, who latched onto Koch’s leg. Koch began kicking Bravo in the face while searching for his weapon, which he located in 10 inches of snow. Koch fired his gun once toward Sorteberg and then shot Bravo in the neck at point-blank range, the complaint says.

Blaine police officers Tim Evens and Grant Breems returned fire, fatally striking Koch.

After the incident, Bravo was taken to an emergency vet center in Blaine, where he was stabilized and then transferred to the University of Minnesota veterinary hospital. Veterinarians discovered the bullet had entered through his throat, struck a vertebra and exited his right shoulder.

A few months later Bravo recovered fully and returned to work in May.

Bravo received a K-9 Purple Heart Oct. 26 at the annual Anoka Anti-Crime Commission fundraising breakfast. Sorteberg was awarded the Gallantry Star.

“Bravo made sure that Officer Sorteberg and the other officers involved had an opportunity to return home safely to their families,” Anoka Police Chief Eric Peterson said.

Northstar line faces uncertain future

The fate of the Northstar Line was called into question in 2021 after the COVID-19 pandemic decimated ridership and left the future of commuting uncertain as more people work from home.

At least three lawmakers suggested mothballing the 12-year-old commuter train that runs 40 miles between Target Field and Big Lake, with stops in Fridley, Coon Rapids, Anoka, Ramsey and Elk River. Rep. Cal Bahr, R-East Bethel, and Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, were among those who introduced bills to shut down the train.

Bahr said even if the state had to pay back roughly $85 million in federal funds it would be worth it in the long run.

County commissioners in Anoka and Sherburne counties have also expressed concern about the Northstar’s performance.

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Northstar ridership dropped by more than 95%, according to Metro Transit general manager Wes Kooistra. In numbers, ridership declined from pre-pandemic levels of 767,767 rides in 2019 to 152,456 in 2020 and was projected to be even lower in 2021.

During the 2022 legislative session, some lawmakers will likely revisit the topic of shutting down the Northstar.

Spring Lake Park Hy-Vee opens while Columbia Heights location is canceled, Blaine store stalls

Hy-Vee locations in Blaine, Columbia Heights and Spring Lake Park had significant updates over the last year.

Last April, the Blaine City Council granted the Iowa-based grocer a one-year extension of a conditional use permit, which was originally approved in October 2019.

The Blaine store is slated for construction at the southwest corner of the Jefferson Street and 125th Avenue intersection.

Grading work on the new Hy-Vee store began in fall 2019 and concluded in spring 2020. Hy-Vee will be required to start construction on the store by April 19, 2022, or another conditional use extension would be required. Some members of the council have said they wouldn’t approve another extension.

On Dec. 6 the Blaine City Council expressed concerns that Hy-Vee may back out of the project all together because a construction timeline has not been provided. But city staff said Hy-Vee is in the process of working through final plat approval for the store.

Hy-Vee did pull the plug on its proposed Columbia Heights location last spring. The store was planned for the Central Valu Center, former home of Rainbow Foods, at 4300 Central Ave. NE.

City staff said they were not informed of why Hy-Vee pulled out of the project. Hy-Vee sold the property to Alatus, which tentatively plans to build up to 60,000 square-feet of retail space anchored by a grocery store. The tentative plans also include a public park, single-family housing, underground parking and more.

Nearby, Hy-Vee celebrated the long-awaited grand opening of its Spring Lake Park store May 25 at 8155 Highway 65 NE. Construction of that location began in September 2018. Originally the store was scheduled to open in late 2019. That was pushed back to spring 2020, then to late 2020 and again to spring 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Anoka Human Rights Commission placed on ballot

Last spring Anoka residents gathered enough signatures on a petition to force the City Council to put the fate of the Anoka Human Rights Commission to a citywide vote after a divided council voted to dissolve the commission earlier in the year.

Community interest in the commission initially spiked in August 2020 when the city was poised to abolish the long-dormant body, which hadn’t met since 2012. After public outcry, the council decided to keep the commission. Back then, Council Member Elizabeth Barnett was the lone vote against it. She said at the time that she values input from diverse groups and wants the city to intentionally include their perspectives, but she doesn’t think a human rights commission is the best way to do that.

The attention on the commission renewed interest in it, and applicants sought to join. But after that, commission members and the City Council couldn’t agree on the commission’s role, with some council members viewing the commissioners’ goals as pushing a particular political agenda under the guise of a city entity. They said the commission members should form an independent nonprofit.

In March 2021 the council voted 3-2 to dissolve the commission, with Mayor Phil Rice and Council Member Erik Skogquist dissenting.

But five citizens circulated a referendum petition asking the council to revisit the issue. With 380 verified signatures from registered voters in Anoka, the petition met the threshold laid out in the City Charter, which meant the council had to reverse course or send the question to voters.

On June 7 the council voted 4-1 to uphold its decision to disband the commission, with Council Member Erik Skogquist dissenting. Mayor Phil Rice, who had previously voted to keep the commission, said he still supported it, but at that point he felt the question should go to voters. By voting to uphold the decision, he said, he was essentially voting to put the question on the ballot.

The issue is scheduled to go to voters during the regular election in November 2022.

Columbia Heights celebrates 100 years as a city

The city of Columbia Heights marked 100 years as a city on Wednesday, July 21.

Mayor Amáda Márquez Simula said residents should not only celebrate the century Columbia Heights has officially been a city but should also remember the history of the area before that.

“Happy Birthday, Columbia Heights,” Márquez Simula said in honor of the centennial. “Columbia Heights didn’t just progress from 100 years ago — it has been progressing through time. For more than 100 years, people have loved living here from the Dakota and Ho-Chunk tribes to our Polish and Scandinavian immigrants all the way to our current immigrants from Ecuador, Somalia, East Africa, Mexico and Tibet. It has been a very welcoming city for over 100 years, and I know that our city will continue to welcome people over the next 100 years.”

Columbia Heights became a village March 14, 1889, and became a city July 21, 1921.

Columbia Heights celebrated its centennial with a variety events in 2020 and 2021. Events included a back-to-school drive, Native Pride Dancers, movies in the park, a Halloween Boo-Drive, Zoom history presentations, city cleanups, the making of a city centennial quilt, a birthday party for the city, and more.

Jury awards $30K for unlawful imprisonment by Anoka County Sheriff's Office

On Jan. 28, 2021, a jury awarded $30,000 in damages to a woman it found was falsely imprisoned by the Anoka County Sheriff’s Office in 2017.

After a four-day federal trial, jurors determined deputies at the county jail detained Myriam Parada longer than legally allowed after contacting Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.

“This verdict sends a powerful message that our jails are committing false imprisonment when they unlawfully hold people for ICE,” ACLU-MN attorney Ian Bratlie said in a statement. “We hope it gives jail officials incentive to respect the U.S. Constitution and the rights of people, regardless of where they are born.”

The lawsuit stemmed from a 2017 traffic collision where Parada was arrested after the responding officer claimed he could not identify her using the Matricula Consular card she provided, according to court documents.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed suite on Parada's behalf, claiming her arrest and detention were unconstitutional.

While Chief Judge John Tunheim ruled Parada’s arrest was constitutionally reasonable, the jury was asked to determine if the jail held her longer than legally permitted. The jury said yes.

Central to the case was the Sheriff’s Office’s unwritten policy to contact ICE when a foreign-born resident was booked into the jail.

In August 2020 Tunheim found that the policy discriminated on the basis of national origin and violated Parada’s 14th Amendment right to equal protection. His ruling said the policy was unconstitutional because it was not tailored narrowly enough to further a compelling government interest and would exclude U.S.-born non-citizens while sweeping up foreign-born U.S. citizens and immigrants already admitted into the country in whom ICE would have no interest.

But the jury awarded only nominal damages of $1 for the violation of Parada’s equal protection rights, because it found she had not suffered any actual damages as a result of the jail contacting ICE.

Nowthen gets its own fire department

The city of Nowthen launched an independent fire department last spring.

Since 2007 the Ramsey Fire Department had provided fire service to Nowthen under a joint powers agreement, but in 2019 Ramsey initiated the two-year process to leave the agreement, after raising concerns over administrative costs to Ramsey as well as Ramsey’s needs as it grows.

As Nowthen launched its department, it contracted with St. Francis for administrative services. Although the department is independent, St. Francis’ chief and assistant chief will lead the Nowthen department for the three years.

According to Mayor Jeff Pilon, the city will pay $75,000 to $80,000 a year for administrative services from St. Francis, compared to the approximately $160,000 Ramsey was asking if the joint powers agreement continued. Pilon said Nowthen would also be paying operating and capital equipment costs either way.

New chiefs take the reins

This year three local fire departments new fire chiefs, and a local police department saw new leadership as well.

After about a year and a half of interim leadership, the Anoka-Champlin Fire Department finally hired a new chief last spring.

Ted Massicotte, deputy chief of the Golden Valley Fire Department, took over at Anoka-Champlin March 15, 2021, following unanimous approval by the Fire Board.

Champlin City Administrator Bret Heitkamp said Massicotte was a “perfect fit” for the organization.

“He’s ... got that proven track record as a leader; he’s got that get-it-done attitude,” Heitkamp said. “His ability to communicate kind of stood out for all of us.”

Massicotte, a Brooklyn Park resident, brings 25 years of firefighting experience to the position. In addition to Golden Valley, he has served on the Brooklyn Park and Maple Grove fire departments and spent five years as an adjunct instructor teaching technical college firefighting classes.

The Fridley Fire Department hired Maddison Zikmund as fire chief after the sudden death of Fridley Fire Chief Mike Spencer, who died unexpectedly at age 53 on Sept. 13, 2020. Fridley Fire Marshal James Lange served as acting chief until Zikmund was hired.

Before coming to Fridley, Zikmund spent eight years with the Spring Lake Park-Blaine-Mounds View Fire Department, where he served as assistant fire chief, public information officer and human resources director and responded to emergency incidents as chief fire officer. Zikmund started his role as Fridley fire chief Monday, Jan. 4.

After nearly 15 years, Ham Lake bid farewell to its first full-time fire chief and welcomed a veteran of the St. Paul Fire Department to take the reins.

New Chief Kyle Bode joined the department Jan. 11, 2021.

Bode was with the St. Paul Fire Department 15 years and is also in the Air Force Reserves fire service, where he’s an assistant chief of health and safety.

He came to the fire service by way of the military, after joining the Air Force in 2001 as an aircraft mechanic and later going into the reserves.

Sgt. Josh Antoine was promoted to chief of the Spring Lake Police Department after longtime chief Douglas Ebeltoft retired. Ebeltoft retired Aug. 16 after 32 years of service with the city. Ebeltoft said he’d been training Spring Lake Park Sgt. Josh Antoine as his successor.

Antoine has been around Spring Lake Park City Hall for 21 years, including nearly 18 years with the Police Department after working for the Public Works Department.

Before starting at the Spring Lake Park Police Department, Antoine worked as a part-time recreational deputy for the Scott County Sheriff’s Office for six months in 2003.

Last Embers location closes in Fridley

Ricky’s Embers in Fridley permanently closed its doors March 28. It was the last Embers location in the nation.

Ricky’s Embers owner and operator Joe Rickenbach Jr. sold the property, located at 4400 Central Ave. NE, to Launch Properties so Rickenbach and his wife could retire. The Ricky’s Ember’s building was torn down to allow for construction of a Bank of America.

The Fridley location opened as Embers in 1958. It was one of the last sites to open for the Embers corporation, which was founded by Henry Kristal and Carl Birnberg in 1956.

The 24-hour service restaurant chain was most known for its all-day breakfast, the Emberger quarter-pound burger, and its catchy jingle “Remember the Embers” that was played on local ads in the 1970s.

Embers had a total of 29 locations operating in Minnesota, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin, in its heyday.

The chain fell on hard times in the 1980s and 1990s and decided to franchise restaurant locations.

Rickenbach Jr. was one of the first people to franchise a location. In 1998 he and his wife, Denise, bought the Fridley location where he was working as a manager.

Rickenbach worked for Embers 43 years following in the footsteps of his parents Joseph “Ricky” Rickenbach Sr., who was vice-president of Embers, and his mother Noreen, who worked as a waitress at multiple Embers locations.

Ricky’s Embers had a packed final weekend with people coming from across Minnesota.

Ramsey repeals franchise fees

Beginning in 2022, the city of Ramsey will no longer charge franchise fees on utility bills.

Instead, the city approved a nearly 18% property tax levy increase to fund road construction costs. The franchise fee cost residents $168 a year and raised about $1.9 million annually for the city’s street construction projects. The levy increase will bring in about $1.6 million for road funding in 2022.

Franchise fees were approved in July 2020 in a 4-2 vote and have been added to bills since October 2020. The fees drew community attention and were an issue in recent elections.

Generally homeowners with lower home values saw a higher percentage increase in payments to the city in 2021, while those with higher-valued homes saw a smaller percentage increase by comparison.

The fees were nixed in a 4-3 vote, with Mayor Mark Kuzma and Council Members Matt Woestehoff and Chris Riley dissenting. When the fees were originally approved in July 2020 in a 4-2 vote, Council Members Debra Musgrove and Dan Specht dissented.

Since then, the council makeup has changed, because Woestehoff and Chelsee Howell were elected in November 2020 and Ryan Heineman was elected in February 2021.

Former teacher gets 30 years for sexually abusing minors

Former Anoka Middle School for the Arts teacher Jefferson Fietek was given 30 years in prison for criminal sexual conduct against minors.

Fietek, 48, of Malden, Massachusetts, pleaded guilty to three of 10 counts of criminal sexual conduct Aug. 19. The other seven counts were dismissed. He was sentenced Nov. 17 to 30 years in prison, with credit for 66 days already served. Thirty years is the statutory maximum for first-degree criminal sexual conduct.

Fietek will also register as a predatory offender.

While he pleaded guilty to only three of 10 charges, the plea deal included Fietek admitting he committed unlawful sexual acts against two other victims, who were juvenile teenagers at the time, for a total of five victims who came forward.

“It is horrible that Fietek took the innocence of young boys for his own pleasure,” Anoka County Attorney Tony Palumbo said in a statement. “Although a 30-year prison sentence will not return that innocence, today is an important step in the healing of those hurt by the defendant.”

According to the criminal complaint, Fietek sexually assaulted victims he met through the middle school, on a dating app or through the Youth Arts Initiative, which he helped found.

Fietek, who was known as an advocate for LGBTQ students, was charged in July 2020 after four former students and children’s theater group members accused him of sexually assaulting them over the course of a decade. A fifth victim came forward later.

Many of the victims’ parents were familiar with Fietek, and reported they knew their kids were with Fietek, but they assumed other theater kids were with them, according to the complaint.

Renovated Bunker Beach reopens

Bunker Beach Water Park in Coon Rapids reopened on June 5 after being closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

The water park underwent renovations during its closure, including the addition of s children’s lagoon, family restrooms, a lactation room and extra parking spaces. The wave pool was rebuilt as well.

“It’s a great day in Anoka County,” County Board Chair Scott Schulte said June 1 before the ceremonial ribbon cutting. “Most of them are, but this one especially.”

The goal of the reconstruction wasn’t just to improve typical customers’ experience, but also to bring in new guests from outside the county, County Commissioner Mike Gamache said.

The water park was planned to open with COVID-19 restrictions in place but instead opened at full capacity because Gov. Tim Walz lifted COVID-19 restrictions prior to opening day.

Controversy over prohibition of Pride, Black Lives Matter messaging at libraries

Anoka County was accused of censorship after a memo to library staff prohibited public messaging surrounding Pride or Black Lives Matter in June.

“County guidance is that we will not have public messaging around Pride and Black Lives Matter month,” the May 26 memo said. “If you would like to do a display celebrating diversity in our community in honor of one or both of these themes, you may do so through a lens celebrating diversity on a broader spectrum.”

Josiah Cox, a library employee, called the memo “anti-library.”

“I do not believe that the library itself ... is communications for the county,” Cox said. “I believe it’s a public resource for information. ... It’s about sharing ideas with the community and having them available, no matter what the topic is.”

To not allow displays surrounding Pride month is not welcoming, Cox said.

“To say, ‘But you’re still welcome here, you’re still part of this, but we’re not going to celebrate you, we’re not going to allow that to be relevant to your experience,’ that is targeted disenfranchisement,” Cox said. “They chose to, in the guise of celebrating diversity, betray that message itself. ... They need to do better.”

The county denied that it was censoring any viewpoint but said in a statement that it was offering guidance on “what libraries should avoid to maintain a neutral, welcoming message to all staff and patrons, which includes BIPOC, families of law enforcement, LGBTQIA+, conservative and progressive visitors, etc.”

Slew of cities ban targeted residential picketing

In 2021 cities across Anoka County banned targeted residential picketing after recent high-profile protests in residential areas of the Twin Cities.

Ordinances prohibiting targeted residential picketing typically ban marching, standing or patrolling in a way that’s focused on a single residential building without permission.

White Bear Township was one of the first local Minnesota governments to adopt a targeted picketing ordinance in the early 1990s after protests in front of the home of the executive director of Planned Parenthood.

In 2020 the city of Hugo approved a similar measure after protests outside the home of Bob Kroll, former president of the Minneapolis police union. Many cities in Anoka County and beyond have followed suit, including Andover, Anoka, Blaine, Oak Grove, Ramsey, St. Francis, Spring Lake Park and more.

First Amendment concerns often come up when cities enact these types of ordinances, but the courts have said they’re constitutional.

Nowthen staff quit, citing ‘hostile environment’

The city of Nowthen lost its administrative department at the end of October over allegations that two longtime elected officials had created a hostile work environment.

The three-person department represented more than half the employees who worked at City Hall, which also employs two public works personnel. On Sept. 30 City Clerk/Treasurer Lori Streich quit her job with a month’s notice. Then in mid-October Deputy Clerk Ellen Lendt and administrative assistant Lisa Lorensen put in two weeks’ notice, leaving the department completely unstaffed at the end of the month.

In their resignation letters, Streich and Lendt pointed to Mayor Jeff Pilon and Council Member Mary Rainville as the causes of their departure.

Pilon and Rainville declined to respond to the allegations at the advice of the city attorney, who cited the possibility of litigation after the city was notified that at least some of the employees who were leaving had sought legal counsel.

The City Council moved quickly to ensure paychecks could still be issued and the lights could stay on after the administrative department left. Many services are provided to the city on a contract basis and continued uninterrupted.

The city also hired an interim city administrator to help the council navigate the time of transition. Frank Boyles, who served 26 years as the city manager of Prior Lake, started the interim position in Nowthen Nov. 1, the Monday after the city’s administrative staff clocked out for the final time.

Residents vote down $11.2 million Fridley School District referendum

Voters said no to an $11.2 million levy Nov. 2 that would have provided funds to expand elementary schools to make room for fifth graders, who are currently at the middle school.

A total of 835 voters, or 51.26%, opposed the levy, and 794 voters, or 48.74%, cast ballots in favor of it.

The levy would have been used to construct four additional classrooms at both Hayes and R.L. Stevenson elementary schools (for a total of eight classrooms) and expand cafeteria spaces, bathrooms and the Hayes Elementary parking lot, in order to support moving all fifth grade students from Fridley Middle School to the district’s two elementary schools.

If the levy had been approved by voters, fifth graders would have started at the elementary schools in September 2023.

Anoka-Hennepin voters renew operating, tech levies; deny new mental health funding

The Anoka-Hennepin School District asked voters this year to renew its operating and technology levies, as well as approve a new $11 million levy for mental health and academic support.

Voters renewed the existing levies, but ultimately rejected the new funding.

Some recently added student supports are funded by one-time federal money received in July, but those dollars are expected to run out in June 2023. The district added 20 counselors and social workers across the district to help students with their social, emotional and mental health needs.

“We have intentionally worked to lower our class sizes for grades K-3 and provided more support directly related to helping those earliest learners feel confident about their reading skills and their academic skills,” Superintendent David Law said. Anoka-Hennepin also used some of the federal funds to help the district’s youngest students with learning.

According to the Minnesota Secretary of State’s Office, 16,335 (60.76%) voted in favor of renewing the operating levy, while 10,549 (39.24%) voted against it.

Anoka-Hennepin’s $4.5 million capital projects levy, which funds classroom technology, such as computers, online learning, internet access and audio enhancements, passed by a similar margin.

As for the new mental health funding, 14,6545 (54.53%) voted against the measure, while 12,219 (45.47%) voted in favor of it.

Law said the school district will continue to seek funding streams to extend mental health and other student supports beyond next school year.

Famous Dave’s reopens in Coon Rapids as first-ever Quick ‘Que

After Famous Dave’s in Coon Rapids was torn down in 2020 to be replaced by a multi-tenant building, the chain restaurant is back as a smaller, line-service restaurant.

The Quick ‘Que format is similar to fast casual chains like Chipotle.

The new restaurant, rebuilt on the former Famous Dave’s site at 3211 Northdale Blvd., doesn’t have wait staff like other Famous Dave’s locations do. Instead, customers go down a line of meat and side options and pick what they’d like to eat. Customers can choose a box, a platter or a bowl, each of which includes some variation of meat or a sandwich and sides.

“We’ve been working on this concept for ... about two years,” Famous Dave’s CEO Jeff Crivello said at the restaurant’s grand reopening Oct. 25.

Crivello expects the chain to open more Quick ‘Que locations in the future.

Dave Anderson, founder of Famous Dave’s, attended the ribbon cutting ceremony Oct. 25 and said he was excited about the new restaurant style.

“We’re really looking forward to what the future brings,” Anderson said. “I know barbecue is America’s food, and Famous Dave’s is America’s best barbecue.”

For more information on Famous Dave’s Quick ‘Que menu and hours, visit famousdaves.com/coon-rapids.

Andover approves several new housing developments

The city of Andover expects to see hundreds of new homes, apartments and townhomes in the coming years after the City Council reviewed numerous developments this year.

Meadows at Nightingale

The council approved a final plat for Meadows at Nightingale at 151st Lane and Nightingale Street. The 20 new single-family lots will be developed by Tamarack Land Development. The lot sizes are set to vary from 11,784 to 34,553 square feet.

The development will create a T shape. Partridge Street will shoot off 151st Lane and come to a T at 151st Avenue, which will have a cul de sac at each end.

Fields of Winslow Cove

The council approved a preliminary plat Sept. 7 for 383 villas and single-family homes on more than 244 acres of land. About half the land will be preserved as natural space and parks.

The site, to be developed by Lennar, is located north of Prairie Knoll Park and Barnes Rolling Oaks second addition and west of Smith’s Rolling Oaks. The development is split by Prairie Road.

There will be villas with two- and three-car garages, and homes with three- and four-car garages.

The development will consist of either 55-foot or 65-foot villa lots and 65-foot or 80-foot single-family lots, Josh Metzer, of Lennar, said. Nearly three-quarters of the lots will be 65-foot single-family lots.

Andover Village

Andover Village will include 49 detached townhomes on a new cul-de-sac southeast of the intersection of Bunker Lake Boulevard and North Seventh Avenue. The development will be bordered by the city of Anoka, but there will be no access to Anoka from Andover Village.

The developer, Capstone Homes of Ramsey, will split the land into 49 4,259-square-foot lots, which will be 40 feet wide. The homes will range from 1,080 to 2,040 square feet with either one story or two. Buyers can choose among six styles of homes.

Andover Crossings

The council reviewed a sketch plan for Andover Crossings in August.

Andover Crossings would sit on a currently undeveloped site at the intersection of Seventh Avenue Northwest and Bunker Lake Boulevard.

The 19-acre property could see two eateries: a fast food joint with a drive-thru lane and another restaurant with a drive-thru lane. The sketch plan includes a 22,600-square-foot retail space and an 8,400-square-foot commercial property. The property could also fit a three-story, market-rate apartment building with about 150 units and a separate building with 32 assisted living units.

Anoka awards $50M Highway 10 contract

In October the city of Anoka awarded a nearly $50 million contract to Shafer Contracting Co. Inc. for construction of the “Anoka Solution” project that will remove traffic signals on Highway 10 in the city.

Awarding the contract was a major step in a much-anticipated project with major construction scheduled to begin in spring 2022, with substantial completion scheduled for early 2024.

Work includes total reconstruction of U.S. Highway 10/169 from Anoka’s border with Ramsey to 1,100 feet west of the Ferry Street interchange. Crews will remove the traffic lights at Thurston and Fairoak avenues. They will create a roundabout interchange under Thurston and an underpass at Fairoak. The Main Street interchange will also be reconstructed, and frontage roads will be built on the north and south side of the highway.

The Anoka Solution project dates back to a 2014 study that identified major improvements needed along Highway 10. In 2015 the city of Anoka did further analysis, and in 2016 the city agreed to take the lead on the project and committed $2 million toward it.

Including design and other costs, the project is now expected to cost about $73.4 million, down from more than $80 million previously estimated.

Other funding sources include $1.8 million from Anoka Municipal Electric and $4 million from Anoka County, as well as money from state and federal sources.

To learn more about the project and the schedule, visit anokaHWY10.com.

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