The Duluth Planning Commission voted in support of a proposed sale of about 37 acres — or roughly 14% of the existing Lester Park Golf Course — for the development of housing, with one commissioner, Eddie Ranum, registering his opposition Tuesday night.
The Duluth Parks and Recreation Committee, as well as the City Council, will now decide whether the land can be marketed for housing redevelopment, after the golf course has repeatedly lost money.
In 2019, the Duluth City Council backed a preliminary proposal to offer 50 acres of land for sale at the southern end of Lester Park Golf Course. In the spring of 2020, the city entered into an exclusive agreement to negotiate with a would-be housing developer, but the deal fell apart with the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, largely given the size and cost of the proposed project.
The city is now preparing to take a second run at a sale of land at Lester, with the Duluth Economic Development Authority potentially taking ownership of the property and acting as its agent.
"This is a very complex multiyear process that has gone before the parks and rec commission a number of times, as well as before their subcommittee related to golfing. And it is anticipated, should this process proceed past the threshold of planning commission review, that there would be subsequent review by the parks and rec commission, as well as the City Council and the Duluth Economic Development Authority and potentially others," said Adam Fulton, Duluth's director of planning and economic development.
Jason Crawford, a planning commission member who also served on the public golf subcommittee, said: "There was extensive research done. And this is slightly different than what was originally proposed prior to COVID. But I'm very familiar with the golf course and that area, and it's a great piece of real estate to sell off. And it's not ruining the potential to have golf still on the docket in the future for Lester Park."
Any prospective sale of the golf course property by the city would be subject to certain conditions presented to the planning commission Tuesday, including a provision that no less than 20% of units within any multifamily housing project will be offered to households earning 60% of the median income or less.
Also, any development agreement must be completed within seven years from the conveyance of property ownership or the land could return to city ownership.
It is expected that any proceeds the city derives from the sale of a portion of the Lester Golf Course will be redirected to help support improvements at Duluth's only other municipal golf course at Enger Park. Proposed investments there, including irrigation system improvements, a new clubhouse, course upgrades and an overhaul of the driving range, are expected to cost $7.1 million.