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Park Point land for sale amidst controversy

By ABEL GUSTAFSON
DCN Correspondent

In an attempt to reconcile the $6.5 million city budget deficit, the sale of three of four parcels of Park Point city land was approved in a 6-3 vote at Monday night's city council meeting. The council also voted 5-4 that the fourth and final parcel not be sold due to the environmental concerns raised by Duluthians.

The approval of the sale has Park Point residents, as well as other Duluthians, up in arms. Dave Johnson, a longtime Park Point resident and former president of the Park Point Community Club, has long been petitioning the city to reconsider. He said that the land for sale is both unique and environmentally priceless.

"We aren't talking about saving every pothole and stump," Johnson said. "But the real gems, we have to protect."

He went on to say that the sale is "a threat to one of the more important areas of the Mississippi Highway for bird migration."

Janet Green, a former president of the Duluth Audubon Society and a former board member of the National Audubon Society, has been studying the birds of Northeastern Minnesota for more than 45 years. She said that the Park Point land is a valuable bird sanctuary that attracts tourism.

"It's not unusual to go down there during migration season and see 100 species of birds," Green said. "Many people come to Duluth for this reason only."

The land for sale has long been viewed as being part of the Park Point City Park, thus excluding the possibility of selling it. However, the city administration has recently proclaimed that the park boundary is actually a few hundred feet farther down the point, making these four parcels of city-owned land to be available for sale.

Johnson said the new boundary of the park is due to a clerical error in 1940 after the land 's allocation as a city park, which mistakenly recorded the park as being smaller than its original size.

"You can clearly see the sign that marks the boundaries of the park," said Johnson. "There is no question. This is city park land."

Jay Young, who lives in the farthest house down the point neighboring the for-sale lots. “They are selling property that was park property,? he said. “Somehow they now have the right to turn it into residential.?

After a controversial ruling that the strip of Park Point land is zoned as residential, two parcels of land will be sold to the Thralow family for $762,000, while the third piece of land will be sold to ELWA, LLC for $471,000. The total amount of more than $1.2 million will help to alleviate the city's immediate budget crisis.

Councilor Tony Cuneo said "I have no idea what we would use to fill that gap in the next 30 days."

In August, Johnson attended a city council meeting where Mayor Don Ness challenged him to find an alternative solution. Johnson promptly suggested that the city sell the land to the State of Minnesota as a State Park, or try to sell to the Nature Conservancy of Duluth. The money received would be comparable to the money made from a public sale, and the area would remain environmentally protected.

City administration rejected this proposal because it takes almost a year to process a state park sale. The speed of selling on the public market better facilitates the city's budget crisis. The Nature Conservancy passed on the offer, leaving the city with no option but to open up the bidding to the public sector.

"Selling the city's assets should always be a last resort," Cuneo said "Hopefully in 2009 we can look for other solutions."

Councilor Jim Stauber said "It’s not enjoyable for us to be cleaning closets and selling off what we can, but such are the times right now."

Comments

Selling those parcels was a great thing. Protecting land out there only shifts property tax burden to the rest of the city. Why should the rest of the city subsidize Park Point? When it comes to environmental concerns, no piece of Duluth land is anymore important than any other. But when it comes to property taxes there is a clear value difference. The Nature Conservancy can set aside hundreds of acres in Northern Minnesota for the price they would have had to pay for that Park Point land.

To prove me wrong tell me what 212 square foot by 212 square foot Central Hillside undeveloped parcel (there are some) is less valuable "ecologically". I would wager that the butterfly, bunnies and birds would disagree that their lives are more expendable then the bunnies, butterfly and birds on a 212 x 212 square foot parcel of PP land. I also wager that to say Central Hillside land (where I live) is less valuable to me "ecologically" is unfair... perhaps elitist and maybe even racist.

But it would be a heckava lot cheaper to protect Central Hillside land... and you can protect a lot more.