Additional housing soon could be coming to Duluth's unprofitable Lester Park Golf Course.
The Duluth City Council unanimously voted Monday night in support of a resolution of intent to transfer ownership of about 37 acres of land at Lester to the Duluth Economic Development Authority, in hopes the organization can successfully market the property to would-be housing developers. The land in question is located on the southern side of the golf course and constitutes about 14% of the total golf course property.
Speaking in support of the resolution, 2nd District Councilor Joel Sipress said, "What we're looking at here is selling a relatively small portion of the Lester Park Golf Course property for the purposes of development, while maintaining the vast majority of the Lester Park Golf Course as open public park land."
The city's earlier attempts to solicit development plans for a larger 50-acre share of the golf course in 2014 and 2020 proved to be unsuccessful.
The resolution passed Monday said: "City administration believes that the conveyance of the property to the authority … will improve the ability of both the city and DEDA staff to engage developers and encourage the development of mixed-income housing."
Two parcels of land would be earmarked for affordable housing, renting units to tenants that are within the financial reach of households earning no more than 60% of the area median income. Overall, no less than 20% of the new housing units built on the golf course are supposed to qualify as affordable housing under the same definition.
Councilor Gary Anderson, who represents Duluth's 1st District, including Lester Park, said: "I am excited to see this resolution move forward and looking forward to next steps, so that we hopefully really do come up with a right-sized and appropriate development for this neighborhood,"
The land is to be sold in pieces or as a whole at market value, roughly estimated to be about a cumulative $1.3 million. Any proceeds from the sale of the property are to be plowed back into Duluth's public golf program, and specifically the Enger Park Golf Course.
That course is scheduled to be idled temporarily for a major yearlong overhaul. In the interim, 18 holes at the previously mothballed Lester Park Golf Course will reopen before it is permanently retired.
Anderson said he likes the idea of breaking the golf course property into pieces, allowing for incremental development with a variety of housing.
"I'm excited to see mixed-income housing come in here. Mixed-income is what built Lakeside. Mixed-income is what built Woodland. Mixed-income is what built Gary-New Duluth. There's very little part of our city that was not built on a variety of housing availability," he said.
Sipress said the type of housing proposed would allow young people who grew up in the neighborhood to move back into the Lakeside-Lester Park neighborhoods.
"We're talking about making sure that if you are working at the New London Cafe washing dishes, or you are working at Sammy's, or you are working at the new brew pub, that you can afford to live in the neighborhood that you grew up in. That's what we're talking about. And I think we should absolutely make clear that every neighborhood should be a neighborhood where people who don't earn big bucks can afford to live," he said.
Monday's resolution required no fewer than eight affirmative votes from the nine-member council, because of the high standard set for the disposition of established public park land.
A future ordinance is expected to make the terms spelled out in the resolution of intent passed Monday legally binding for any future development agreement involving the land.
While Sipress threw his support behind the resolution, he said: "My one concern is that this land transfer to DEDA will be for up to seven years. They'll have seven years to pursue this land development. And we have no idea who is going to be mayor seven years from now, and we have no idea who the DEDA commissioners will be. We have no idea who city staff will be. And I imagine it to be likely, but there is a worst-case scenario, where if there's a change in perspective from a future administration, and if DEDA goes ahead and sells this land to a developer in violation of the stipulations in the development agreement, and if due to the views of a future administration, the city does not enforce the development agreement, I've asked the city attorney to let us know, what recourse would a future city council have?"
Sipress said he's hopeful the council will have an answer to that before it is asked to vote on an actual ordinance of sale for the property in question.