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Hibbing Council cancels Cobb Cook agreement, proposes new location

Cobb Cook Park in Hibbing on June 26, 2024.
Megan Buffington
/
KAXE
Cobb Cook Park in Hibbing on June 26, 2024.

In a special meeting Monday, the Hibbing City Council and the HRA discussed an alternative site after the Council canceled the Cobb Cook Park purchase agreement.

HIBBING — After weeks of community organization, Hibbing residents succeeded in saving Cobb Cook Park.

The Hibbing City Council voted unanimously to cancel its purchase agreement for the Cobb Cook land with the Housing and Redevelopment Authority of Hibbing at a special meeting Monday, July 1. The meeting was called to reconsider the agreement after a large showing of public opposition at the June 26 Council meeting.

Following the cancellation vote, the Council discussed a new agreement for an undeveloped 5-acre lot on Fifth Avenue West, behind Grace Lutheran Church. The sale of that parcel, like the Cobb Cook agreement, would be contingent on the HRA receiving funding from the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency. The Council plans to vote on the agreement at its regular meeting July 10.

The decision ends the month-long Save Cobb Cook Park saga, which began in late May when the public learned of the HRA’s plans to develop 52 workforce housing units on the site of the 2.5-acre neighborhood park. The new units would partially replace the 72-year-old blighted Haven Court or Greenhaven Apartments. The Hibbing Council approved a purchase agreement at its June 5 meeting, just days after the HRA shared its plans for Cobb Cook Place on social media.

Local organizers, many of whom live near the park or grew up playing in it, spent the next few weeks at Cobb Cook, making signs and gathering signatures in opposition to the Council’s action. They decried the lack of transparency and community involvement throughout the process.

While some opposed the project because they did not want public housing — and the negative stereotypes they associated with it — in their neighborhood, the majority said they wanted to preserve a beloved park, one of the few greenspaces in that part of the city.

Last week, organizers said they would lobby MHFA to prevent the HRA project from receiving funds as the last option to save the park. Now, Ashton Martin, founder of the Cobb Cook Coalition, said the group will focus on advocating for the project’s funding.

Organizers Ashton Martin and Erin Ningen, center, speak during a Save Cobb Cook Park rally on the front lawn of Hibbing City Hall on June 26, 2024.
Megan Buffington
/
KAXE
Organizers Ashton Martin and Erin Ningen, center, speak during a Save Cobb Cook Park rally on the front lawn of Hibbing City Hall on June 26, 2024.

“Because what we really feel would be the happiest ending to this story is that we not only just save the park but we also secure the grant money needed to build these homes for the residents who have kind of felt really isolated throughout this whole process,” Martin said. “And I don’t think that was ever our intention.”

The new proposed site is one the HRA previously considered, but it was “eliminated due to what we felt were fatal flaws,” Executive Director Jackie Prescott said in a news release from the city.

After the meeting Monday, Prescott said the HRA doesn't have the money for the development the site would require, and the partnership with the city wasn’t as strong as it is now.

“My assumption ... was that we couldn’t ask for more than [the land] and that Cobb Cook was just ready to be built, would score high [on the MHFA application],” she said. “Whereas with this new parcel of land and their buy-in, it is really a community project now, not just an HRA project.

Prescott told the Council the HRA is requesting the extension of utilities, building roads and soil testing, including balancing and remediation if required, to be included in the new purchase agreement.

Hibbing received $1.15 million for housing development from the Legislature in the most recent session. Mayor Pete Hyduke said this money was intended for the HRA and could be put toward this project’s site development.

“This will take some city funding to extend roadway, some utilities, but it would also open up property for other development, so it’s kind of a win-win for the city,” Hyduke said.

If approved, a new road would be built on an existing right-of-way off Ninth Avenue West, immediately north of Grace Lutheran Church.

The new lot would need to be rezoned to allow for denser residential development, but a member of the Planning Commission told the Council it should be easy to do. Prescott said if funding, rezoning and other requirements fall into place, ground could be broken on the development as early as mid-2026.

The HRA must be in control of the land it intends to build on before it submits its application to MHFA. The HRA had set an internal deadline for the application of July 1, but the official submission date is July 11.

The same plans proposed for Cobb Cook will still be submitted if an agreement is reached in time. Prescott said HRA staff are already working to change the necessary information in the paperwork.

In her statement to the Council, Prescott thanked the city for seeking alternatives and community members for voicing their concerns.

“As a result, this reevaluation has led to stronger partnerships, better communication and a parcel of land to work with that is better than the initial site,” she said.

Megan Buffington joined the KAXE newsroom in 2024 after graduating from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Originally from Pequot Lakes, she is passionate about educating and empowering communities through local reporting.