A handful of citizens stood their ground at Duluth City Hall on Wednesday night and said any sale of public parkland sets a “dangerous precedent.”
Compromise, that aching heart of democracy, had another idea.
The Parks and Recreation Commission voted 6-2 to advance a plan that could see part of Duluth’s public golf courses sold for residential development.
“Unless we start to act judiciously with the resources we do have, we are unsustainable,” commissioner Jill Joyce said. “While it pains my heart to think there will be less parkland, I’m also a reasonable individual.”
The city has proposed selling 50 acres of the Lester Park Golf Course - the Lake Nine, just north of Superior Street - for a multi-family development. The proceeds of the sale would help shore up Enger Park Golf Course, which needs $3.7 million of work.
The two courses have a combined $2.4 million in debt.
While Wednesday's vote does not commit the city to anything more than continued discussions of the proposal, it does edge the land closer to a sale.
Duluth city councilors Gary Anderson and Arik Forsman sent an email to commissioners Wednesday asking for support and clarifying the process.
“Your action tonight merely endorses continued exploration,” the email said. “Nothing tonight will decide long-term land sale questions, which will be subject to normal city processes.”
The plan has the approval of golfers, as it is a scaled-back approach from initial proposals that keeps all courses open through 2022, after which time operations at Lester could end if it remains financially unsustainable.
“Sale is essential to ensure the survival of public golf in Duluth, not just for this generation but for generations to come,” said Jim Filby Williams, the city’s director of public administration.
Opponents with the Keep Lester Green group said a sale should only be an “absolute last resort” and urged the city to consider alternatives.
“This is moving very quickly,” Rachel Scharfenberg said. “I would ask we have more time, more citizen involvement and a more critical look at what this sale means.”
In making the city’s case, Filby Williams said the process has been ongoing for years and has a long way still to go. Wednesday’s vote will not be the last time the parks commission gets a crack at shaping the outcome of any eventual sale.
Commissioner Dudley Edmondson, who with Tjaard Breeuwer voted against the resolution, said it seemed like a foregone conclusion that the sale would go forward, but still thought there was another path.
“I find it hard to believe we have to do this,” Edmondson said.
City officials hope the residential development at Lester would bring 400 units of housing, 20 percent of which would be set aside for low-income residents. The plan also calls for the sale and residential development of 10 acres at the Enger Park course - currently the driving range, which would be moved.
As part of the plan, the city would also buy 450 tax-forfeit acres north of Lester Park with the intention of putting into permanent conservation.
The Duluth City Council will take up the proposal on Monday with a vote on the zoning of the Lester and Enger properties that would be developed.