Couple balks at notion of selling home to Duluth school district
Though Robert and Charlotte Boyd live to the immediate west of the Ordean Middle School campus, the school is barely visible through the wooded area that separates the properties. The secluded house sits on 5 acres of land that looks and feels li...
Though Robert and Charlotte Boyd live to the immediate west of the Ordean Middle School campus, the school is barely visible through the wooded area that separates the properties. The secluded house sits on 5 acres of land that looks and feels like it belongs in the country, not in the middle of the city.
The Boyds had planned to pass on to their children the house they have lived in since 1970. They found out Thursday, upon return from a two-week vacation, that the property on Greysolon Road is instead slated to go to the new eastern Duluth high school outlined in the school district's long-range facilities plan, also known as the "red plan."
"It's something at our stage we didn't expect," said Duluth native Charlotte Boyd who, like her husband, is retired and in her 70s. "This is where we intend to stay."
Along with the 125-year-old house, there also is an old log cabin, a carriage house with a two-bedroom apartment and a garage on the property. Robert Boyd said he was initially attracted to the area because of its "wild, pristine nature."
"We bought it because it was interesting, and the woods were here and the animals were here," Robert Boyd said. "It was private."
It's not just their privacy they're concerned about, Charlotte Boyd said. The property is home to a variety of wildlife, including deer, owls, foxes, bears and at least two bald eagles that nest about 50 yards from their kitchen window. The eagles have gained notoriety for soaring over the athletic fields at Ordean.
The birds are protected under the federal Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act, which makes it a federal offense to kill, harass or disturb an eagle or an active eagle nest. A nest is considered active for at least five years after its last use.
The school district is exploring options with the appropriate regulatory agencies to understand what can be accomplished and when, said Kerry Leider, property and risk manager for the school district. The district also will conduct a complete environmental assessment with its final designs.
"If the presence of the eagles requires some delay, that is something we are continuing to look into," Leider said.
A softball field and a multi-use athletic field are slated to go on the Boyds' land, features that long lacked adequate acreage at area high schools, Leider said.
"We have had to send kids to remote locations to find those facilities," he said. "Our students have had to leave the school site and get in their cars for practices and games."
Building the fields to the west of the school affects far fewer property owners than if they used land east of 40th Avenue East, he said.
The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, as interpreted by the Supreme Court, allows government entities like the school district to take over private land for a "public use," such as schools, hospitals, highways and other government construction, and the Fifth Amendment requires the government to give "just compensation" to property owners for their land.
The letter the Boyds received from F.I. Salter, a real estate firm representing the school district in purchasing the affected properties, says the district will hire a professional to determine the property's value and assist owners in "finding a home similar" to theirs.
Charlotte Boyd said they have no interest in selling the land, adding that they've often turned down offers to sell or subdivide the land over the years. And there's nothing around that could replace the habitat on their land, she said.
"Once this is gone, it's gone for good," she said.
Eminent domain experts say if the Boyds want to keep their home, it won't be an easy fight.
Christina Walsh works with Castle Coalition, a national coalition of citizens fighting against eminent domain abuse. Because the land is being used for a public school and not for another private use such as a shopping complex, she said, it would be harder to fight in court.
Charlotte Boyd said she and her husband are quiet people who don't want to start a "brouhaha," but they hope others in the community will help them preserve the ecosystem they treasure.
"We're all for schools, but we feel like this is a special place for the animals," she said.
News Tribune staff writer Sarah Horner contributed to this report.