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Crookston giving away free land

CROOKSTON — Dr. Craig Theede’s daily commute from Grand Forks, N.D., to Crookston started earlier than usual Monday. It was because he had an appointment, not with a patient but with his future home.

He wanted to ensure he would land one of 17 free housing lots, made available by the city on a first-come, first-served basis. By showing up at 6:45 a.m. — 75 minutes before City Hall doors opened — Theede was second in line to grab a free lot valued at $20,000 because it includes infrastructure.

"I knew there was a lot of interest in the lots, so I wanted to get there early," he said. "I wanted to make sure I wasn’t No. 18."

Ten of the 17 lots went on the first day. The only conditions are to have a mortgage agreement and have the house built within 18 months. If a residence isn’t built in that time, a $500 deposit is forfeited.

The free lots were a result of an agreement between developer Bob Herkenhoff and the city. In exchange for the 17 free lots, Herkenhoff received a 15-year tax abatement on the three properties he is building in the same development, which is on the northern edge of town, south of the new hockey arena.

The idea was to encourage the construction of homes in the range of $130,000 to $180,000, said Tony Chladek, city administrator. He said the incentives are probably "more aggressive" than most, but were needed.

"It’s a pilot program to bring more people to town," he said. "Population is a big deal here."

Crookston, a city of 7,900, is about 28 miles by road from Grand Forks.

"This gives us the opportunity to live here," said Theede, a first-time homeowner, of the free land. "The bank gave us an approval for a loan because we had the equity in the land. That gives us a jump on future plans that we wouldn’t have otherwise had."

Since the city has averaged only four new homes in recent years, the free lots made a difference.

"When you look at what else is available here, there is very little for young professionals who want something that isn’t a fixer-upper," Theede said. "This helps us get our foot in the door and get started as homeowners."

Theede, who was behind only Crookston insurance agent Erik Griffin in getting to City Hall on Monday, said he still got the lot he wanted and the deal he wanted.

"The amount we’re paying in rent in Grand Forks is almost the same as what we will have for a mortgage payment," Theede said.

Article by Ryan Bakken of Forum News Service.

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