A formerly married couple has filed suit, claiming the city of Duluth bears responsibility for blocking their view of the waterfront when it helped Maurices put up an 11-story office tower and parking ramp across the alley from their condominium.
Steven Bystedt and Carrie Lee Heikkila resided at 414 W. First St. and reported that prior to 2014, when Maurices began construction of a new corporate headquarters, they enjoyed a view of the harbor in a quiet home with a sense of privacy. But they say that all changed when the project commenced.
An elevated entryway to the parking ramp was built directly adjacent to the exterior wall of their condominium, and their civil complaint says traffic now causes the unit to vibrate. Bystedt and Heikkila complained about noise from the neighboring building’s generator and air-handling equipment, as well.
Light pollution from passing vehicles and a lost sense of privacy prompted the couple to install screening over the large picture windows which once allowed them to peer over the waterfront.
The complaint contends that the value of the former couple’s condominium has been greatly diminished as a result, noting that a neighboring condominium in the same building had sold for $400,000 prior to the construction of the Maurices building but went for $249,000 afterward.
Bystedt and Heikkila initially filed suit against Maurices and the city about a year ago, claiming that the construction of the office tower and ramp constituted a public taking of their property and “an invasion” of their property rights.
The couple asked the court to order a condemnation proceeding, with the hope that they would be compensated for the lost value of their home, as well as legal fees.
Elizabeth Seller, an assistant city attorney, countered that case should be thrown out, maintaining that the couple had failed to identify any protected property rights that had been violated, much less the existence of “a taking.”
An attorney for Maurices argued that as a private corporation, his client does not have the duty or the power to commence condemnation proceedings and that it also lacks the power of eminent domain required to take private property.
Maurices’ argument persuaded 10th Judicial District Judge Suzanne Bollman, prompting her to dismiss the couple’s case against Maurices.
Meanwhile, she has allowed the suit against the city of Duluth to move forward, although no trial date has been set yet.
Bollman wrote: “The city of Duluth has a duty to compensate private property owners for the taking of private property for public use, and the petition establishes a sufficient legal claim that a taking occurred.”
She noted that the city had argued Bystedt and Heikkila “do not have a protectable interest in a view of Lake Superior, an implied easement for light, air and view over a public street or direct access to the public skywalk.”
However, she also cited past legal precedent that “a property owner has a right to the quiet enjoyment and peaceful possession of his or her property.”
With the case pending, neither Bystedt; his attorney, Shawn Reed; nor the Duluth city attorney’s office chose to discuss their legal dispute with the News Tribune.