Maplewood secures abandoned construction site


The boarded-up 1905 Radatz Ave. property in Maplewood sits next to a large pile of dirt, something neighbors said had been accompanied by debris and building materials until recently. Construction of the home had been headed until March by Journey Home, the former nonprofit led by Blake Huffman, who resigned as a Ramsey County Commissioner in June. (Amy Felegy/Review)

Construction of the 1905 Radatz Ave. home halted before the exterior was completed, leaving large gaps in the structure. (Amey Felegy/Review)

Bank looks for new contractor

 

City and county officials, law enforcement and a bank are slowly making progress on sorting out what to do with an abandoned home construction site just south of Maplewood Mall. 

Journey Home, a nonprofit that worked to give veterans and their families affordable housing, involuntarily terminated work at the site in March due to $160,000 in unpaid labor and building materials. 

Blake Huffman, the former nonprofit’s founder, resigned his seat on the Ramsey County Board of Commissioners in June after an investigation found that Journey Home sold a house to one of his sons using $30,000 in federal grant money, which was administered by the county, county officials said.

 

Bank involvement

John Skopinksi, chief credit officer at Citizens Independent Bank, said he believes the bank owns the property at 1905 Radatz Ave., though Journey Home never sent the original signed documents back, so it’s not official. 

The St. Louis Park bank has tried to contact the nonprofit but emails to Journey Home bounced back and phone calls went to voicemail.

Skopinski said his bank hopes to find a party interested in taking the house as-is to finish its construction. That, he said, has been the biggest holdup.

The Star Tribune reported at least three construction sites were abandoned by the nonprofit and Journey Home stopped paying mortgages on more than a dozen Ramsey County properties.

“We certainly are looking forward to having that property completed,” Maplewood Mayor Marylee Abrams said. “Housing obviously is a shortage and that would be a really wonderful location for people to move into our city. We’re hopeful.”

Abrams said that at the end of the day, it’s up to the bank to make further progress on construction. Maplewood Community Development Director Jeff Thomson agreed, noting the city did not invest any money into the Radatz Avenue site.

“We are not a partner on the project; we didn’t sell them the land,” Thomson said. “It was a completely private transaction with Journey Home and their lender.”

County commissioner Victoria Reinhardt said all city staff can do is make sure the site is safe and to continue reaching out to the bank to see what the future holds.

“We’re trying to encourage the bank in terms of finding a developer or buyer so that this does not languish,” she said. 

 

Safety first

Both the bank and city officials, including police, said steps are being taken to ensure the property is safe in the meantime.

Thomson said building inspectors went to the site when construction stopped, prior to its exterior being complete. The city then contacted the bank, which has been compliant in boarding up windows and securing the property.

“I spoke with a gentleman at the building inspector office and told him we would secure the property, which we did,” Skopinski said. 

“That was our immediate concern,” Thomson said. “Of course, then we will want to see ultimately the completion of that structure and make sure the contractor that ultimately finishes that construction gets a permit to continue that project.”

While waiting out the building pause, Thomson said the city will take care of cutting the property’s grass and any other nuisance issues.

Neighbors have called the police several times to report trespassers at the property. The house is now routinely checked and police said they have been at the site 13 times within the last month or so, five of which to respond to calls. As of July 24, police said another window had been broken and they made a request for it to be fixed.

Donna Lynch lives next door to the property and has lived on Radatz Avenue for more than 40 years. She recalled speaking to a worker at the site when Journey Home was still working on it.

“[The worker] said that somebody was going to come and get [the dirt pile], but nobody ever came and took it,” Lynch said. “It’s not a very pretty picture.”

Neighbor Linda Rademacher, who has also been living on Radatz for over 40 years, said a handful of children have climbed up the dirt pile late at night and lit off fireworks inside the house.

“It’s not safe at all,” Rademacher says. “It’s extremely frustrating.”

City officials said a family was set to receive the Radatz Avenue home and was upset when construction ceased. Huffman did not return a call for comment. 

 

–Amy Felegy can be reached at afelegy@lillienews.com or 651-748-7815.

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