County throws in on St. Louis River Corridor development

by Richard Thomas

Kayak Bay Drive
Kayak Bay Drive
Tax forfeit land
Tax forfeit land

Kayak Bay is a public/private development below Spirit Mountain which will include houses, condominiums, apartments and water access for canoes and kayaks. St. Louis County will contribute $900,000 to road construction. The City of Duluth is responsible for all other costs of the road and park project, estimated at $2.7 million. The project is expected to leverage $30-to-40 million in private development.

Jim Filby Williams,  director of public administration for the City of Duluth, spoke at the May 1 county board committee of the whole. He said the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources planned to acquire the property and turn it into an aquatic management area, thus prohibiting development, but the City successfully negotiated the DNR into surrendering its claim and allow the project to go forward. 

Duluth City Council approved the project last February by a 7-2 vote over the objections of environmentalists and the city’s parks and recreation commission, which earlier voted 6-4 against. Speaking to the parks commission in January, Will Munger, owner of the Munger Inn and member of the Isaak Walton League, the Save Lake Superior Association and the St. Louis River Alliance, said, “Virtually all those organizations, I think I can stand here tonight and tell you they oppose any kind of further development of riverfront areas that border right on the river. They want to keep them natural.” (Jan. 25 Reader)

Commissioner Frank Jewell said the DNR decided not to take certain parcels because they were not important to protecting the estuary, similar to parcels on Park Point. He recalled a situation when he was on the Duluth City Council (1987-1991). 
“We decided to extend the Western Waterfront Trail from basically behind the Munger Inn to 63rd,” he said. “Except for increasing garbage rates, I did not think there was a worse fight on the City Council, because people didn’t want to extend that piece because they literally thought motorcyclists were going to drive down it and rape and pillage. You cannot believe the kind of stuff people thought were going to happen if we extended this thing. 

“One of the key places that has developed is the area immediately to the west of where it originally ended. That’s where a huge piece of the investment went in. There are whole series of townhomes and condos that overlook the river there. People — and I became friends with some of these people who were throwing rotten tomatoes at me — came to see it as just this huge asset that they had not thought was an asset. So this is another example of giving us an opportunity to access the water and obviously a complex project that is taking lots of partners to making happen. I think everybody on board may have talked to the developer who wants very badly to get this done.

“I think it’s exciting. I just think as much as there are naysayers now, only now the naysayers are not the neighbors as much as they are groups who think this could damage the um, pristine quality of the estuary.”
Jewell erupted into laughter along with the rest of the room. “I thought you would love that,” he said.

Land for sale

To better sell tax-forfeited land, the St. Louis County board voted Tuesday to launch a pilot project by which properties will be sold at more flexible rates.
Public auctions occur three times a year with properties starting at a minimum bid. If the land is not sold at auction, it still can be purchased through the county Land & Minerals Department. But the price can’t drop below minimum, no matter how hard it is to sell, until the property is reassessed. “This was a tedious process that could take a year or more for each price reduction/reoffer cycle,” states board letter 18-266, dated May 1.

The board’s resolution authorizes a one-year pilot program under which the auditor can reoffer unsold parcels at periodically adjusted prices, based on market conditions. Parcels can be sold through over-the-counter listing or through a real estate broker.
The county manages around 900,000 acres of tax forfeit rural land and 13,000 urban parcels. The next public land auction is 10 a.m. on Thursday, June 14 at the AAD Shriners Center, 5152 Miller Trunk Highway in Hermantown.

We’re not ready for spring

April 23: Two men fall through the ice near Prairie Lake in Floodwood. First responders rescue one, but an 82-year old man is pronounced dead at the scene.

April 28, 4:17 p.m.: A 13-year-old male falls into Lake Superior at Park Point and clings to an ice chunk. An adult supervising the youth group attempts a rescue and falls in himself. The adult is able to safely remove the juvenile and himself from the water. The juvenile is treated by Gold Cross Ambulance and released; the adult declined medical treatment. 

April 28, 6:20 p.m.: A dog falls through the ice on Lake Superior at Park Point. The owner falls in while trying to rescue the dog. She is rescued by two deputies laying on the ice holding her hands while Duluth Fire staff and several citizens pull on the deputies’ legs. The St. Louis County Sheriff’s Office advises “everyone to stay off the ice on area waterways for the remainder of the season.”