Pewabic Street Garden

City of Houghton seeks return of garden site from county to aid jail proposal

HOUGHTON — Houghton County commissioners were partially receptive to a City of Houghton proposal to return ownership of the Pewabic Street right-of-way to the city.

Houghton City Manager Eric Waara spoke to the board at its meeting Tuesday about the property, which for the past 14 years has been used for the city’s Pewabic Street Community Garden.

The city had formally abandoned the street two decades ago to assist the county’s plan to build a new jail on county-owned land across the street from the courthouse.

Since then, the county has sold off a portion of the property for townhouses. At the same time, the garden has grown into a community asset for Houghton residents, Waara said.

By reacquiring the 60-by-200-foot right of way, the city would be able to ensure continued access to the site.

“I’m here right now to gauge the interest in pursuing the city at least getting that right of way back, since no project has ever happened there,” Waara said. “And we’ve got a real community asset sitting on that property right now.”

Board members didn’t oppose the project. However, they said the property could still serve as a site for a new jail in case the county’s preferred option on Sharon Avenue doesn’t happen.

The county entered into a purchase agreement with First Apostolic Lutheran Church last year to purchase its property on Sharon Avenue. However, that has been on hold as rising building costs have pushed back the church’s planned construction of a new building elsewhere.

Last year, Portage Township discussed a Public Act 425 agreement that would transfer the land to Houghton. The land would revert to the township if the county does not begin constructing the jail within nine years. The county has also explored the purchase of the Mattson property off of Evergreen Street.

Chair Tom Tikkanen said he was not opposed to Waara’s proposal, but that the board should not take action until it has secured ownership of a site. Other commissioners agreed.

“They came in good faith, we didn’t deliver on it, and we owe them something,” Commissioner Glenn Anderson said. “On the other hand, that is still a potential site for a jail.”

Waara said the Pewabic Street issue wasn’t immediately pressing. But after 14 years, he thought it was worth asking the question.

“It sounds like there’s a path that we’re on here,” he said. “And as long as there wasn’t a resounding ‘heck no,’ I’ll pursue things from our end.”

Waara said he would talk with an attorney to see how to undo the abandonment before coming back to the board with a proposal.


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