City declares Como property a ‘municipal problem’

Joe Baker never considered his Southeast Como auto business a “municipal problem” – but the City of Minneapolis did. After years of repeated city violations and complaints from the community, Baker’s property, formerly Joe Baker Auto Service on the corner of Como and 18th avenues Southeast, is now in the hands of Hennepin County . On Tuesday, county officials were set to decide whether to return the property to Baker, or to use it for something more âÄúbeneficial to the community.âÄù However, they delayed the decision for further environmental inspections. Aside from saying that he didn’t feel his business was a municipal problem, Joe Baker would not make any further comment for this story.

Problems with the city

Problems between Baker and the city began in 2003, when Southeast Como residents began complaining about junk cars parked at Joe Baker Auto, because they were an eyesore and would often spill out onto the street. After multiple violations, citations and a mass impounding of a collection of inoperable vehicles, Baker’s business license expired in 2006. Last year the property went into tax forfeiture after Baker did not pay his property taxes, and it is now in the hands of Hennepin County. In order to make its position clear to Hennepin County, the City of Minneapolis declared the property a âÄúmunicipal problem,âÄù with code, police and health violations, Robin Garwood, policy aid for Second Ward Councilmember Cam Gordon , said. âÄúWe have tried for more than five years now to bring this business into compliance, but have not been able to do so,âÄù Garwood said. âÄúI can envision how that would be a good spot for a community serving business, which unfortunately, Joe Baker Auto has not been in the last few years.âÄù However, Baker has applied to repurchase the property from Hennepin County. Baker intends to sell the property if he can repurchase it, but Garwood said he is not convinced that Baker will commit to selling. âÄúGiven his past behavior, I donâÄôt necessarily believe that he will sell,âÄù Garwood said. âÄúThe property has been let go to such a significant extent that I donâÄôt know who he is going to get to buy it.âÄù Dave Jaeger, supervisor of the contaminated lands unit with Hennepin County, did an environmental inspection of the property and said there is potential damage to the property due to an above-ground oil containment tank that may have leaked into the soil. That damage could factor into the price of the repurchase, and ultimately the value of the property, Jaeger said.

Community impact

But there are those in the community who do not want to see Joe Baker go. James Walker, owner of a duplex next door to the former Joe Baker Auto, said Baker has always been a good neighbor to him. âÄúI have a disability, and Joe has always helped me shovel my sidewalks and never charged me a dime,âÄù Walker said. Walker also said Baker has been willing to do work for college students for cheap and works on cars that other shops wonâÄôt. âÄúEveryone is clear on the fact that Joe is a pretty nice guy,âÄù Garwood said. However, some residents of the Southeast Como neighborhood have ideas of what could take Joe Baker AutoâÄôs place. Katie Fournier, chair of the livability committee for the Southeast Como Improvement Association , said residents have suggested a small office for selling life insurance, a coffee and flower shop combination or a small art gallery. âÄúHe was keeping a junkyard on a very prominent corner of our neighborhood,âÄù she said. James De Sota, neighborhood coordinator for SECIA , said senior housing, or something targeted to families would be more appealing options for Southeast Como. De Sota said he worries that the property could end up turning into high-density housing. âÄúItâÄôs not really what that street or that part of the neighborhood needs,âÄù he said.