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Duluth wants to fight air rights ruling on Voyageur property

After learning it has to pay $545,600 for its takeover of the Voyageur Lakewalk Inn's air rights to build the SMDC parking ramp, the city of Duluth is left with two options: Pay up or go to court.

After learning it has to pay $545,600 for its takeover of the Voyageur Lakewalk Inn's air rights to build the SMDC parking ramp, the city of Duluth is left with two options: Pay up or go to court.

The city wants to take Option B, asking the City Council to approve appealing the decision.

In 2005, arguing that it would affect their current and future business, motel owners Rick and Pamela Pietrusa objected to the $107,000 price the city offered for the air rights to its property -- which is behind their motel and was used as a parking lot.

The issue was sent to a three-person, judge-appointed commission that last month sided with the Pietrusas.

City Attorney Bryan Brown said the administration believes the commissioners' award was too high.

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"We think they made a mistake," he said.

Duluth Mayor Don Ness concurred.

"We're trying to protect the public's financial interest," he said. "And our staff feels like we have a strong case to be made."

Councilors need to approve the decision to appeal, and there's at least some resistance to do that. An appeal would mean sending the case to trial, which would increase legal costs. If the city loses, it would have to pay the Pietrusas' legal costs.

"I think we should put this behind us," Councilor Jim Stauber said.

The city still has to pay $249,000 to the Pietrusas, the value at which it appraised the property. If it does appeal the award and go to trial, by law the city also has to put $302,200 into an escrow account.

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