Residents torn about moving for new fire station

Published 8:50 pm Thursday, September 27, 2018

Why do ‘they want to take these homes?’


The home of Evelyn Willaby at 415 S. Newton Ave. has been owned by her family since 1973.

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Now she will likely have to sell the home to the city after the Albert Lea City Council voted Monday to place the fire station east of the Freeborn County Government Center.

Willaby said the city should have decided to build the fire station on Blazing Star Landing. 

Willaby, who fixed her home and built a garage on the property in 2000, said she does not know where she will live after she sells her house.

“I don’t really understand why they want to take (these) homes when they’ve got an empty lot to build on,” she said.

“It would make more sense, since they’re uprooting (these) families.”

The properties to be moved or demolished include Willaby’s; ones owned by Freeborn-Mower Cooperative Services at  213 and 217 E. Pearl St., and 417 and 517 S. Newton Ave.; rental properties at 406, 408, 410 and 412 E. Elizabeth St.; at least a portion of property at 220 E. College St.; and 411 and 415 S. Newton Ave. 

Willaby said she is wary of moving into another location and having to make payments after she already paid off her current house.

Willaby, who has lived in Albert Lea since 1959, has met with the city a few times to discuss the looming transaction.

“I just don’t think that it’s right for them to uproot you, take you out of your home,” she said.

Willaby said the first time she learned the city wanted to buy her property was through the media.

Albert Lea City Manager Chad Adams said acquiring the properties was necessary to conduct the project, and no purchasing offers have been made. Adams hopes cost estimates on the properties are unveiled in the next 30 to 60 days.

“It’s an essential public purpose in the community, so these types of facilities are essential to benefit the entire community, and the proximity to the Law Enforcement Center is one of the key variables that we looked at in terms of the benefit of this particular site,” he said.

Adams said the city has suggested dollar ranges for real estate transactions and shared estimated county market value data with property owners.

Though support from owners in selling the properties varies, everyone he has talked to said they would sell the property to the city, he said.

He said it was “not ideal,” that the station will force people to move, but the city had conversations with affected property owners “well in advance” to gather feedback.

Adams said the city wants to ensure property owners can move comfortably.

Manuel Cortinas of 220 E. College St. said when he was told he might have to sell at least his 4 1/2-stall garage to the city, he questioned why the station was not being placed on Blazing Star Landing.

“At first I wasn’t too happy, because I always think that, ‘well, they have all that land where Wilson’s used to be,’” he said. “Why don’t they just build it there?”

Cortinas said he will likely have to move no matter how he feels.

“There’s nothing I can do, because they already said they want to build here,” he said.

After the existing buildings on the Newton Avenue site are acquired, they are expected to be demolished from December to April, and the project is expected to be completed in December 2019, with move-in the same month.

The 28,000-square-foot facility is expected to cost more than $9 million. As of earlier this month, an estimated $6.5 million of project funding could come from the city’s fire pension fund, with $1 million coming from the police pension fund for the facility’s emergency operations center and training and fitness space. There is expected to be $100,000 in funding from fire fund interest, and $150,000 of project funding is expected from building services for capital furnishings.

An estimated $200,000 of project funding could come from equipment certificates.

Additional project funding could include $100,000 from the township property sale and $100,000 from the sewer fund.

About Sam Wilmes

Sam Wilmes covers crime, courts and government for the Albert Lea Tribune.

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