A group of concerned Duluth residents is organizing in response to a proposal to sell off and develop a portion of what is now the Lester Park Golf Course.
Opponents of the plan have banded together under a unified call - Keep Lester Green - and they've launched a website of the same name to promote their cause.
Citizens initially mobilized after developer Tom Sunnarborg proposed to buy the 260-acre golf course in its entirety and downsize the operation from 27 to 18 holes to make room for an upscale hotel and housing development on the back nine.
Last week, Duluth city administration unveiled a different vision for the golf course, that would involve selling and redeveloping just 50 acres of land on the front nine holes, but Keep Lester Green members still are expressing their displeasure.
"Less acreage doesn't really mean that the magnitude is not going to still be large," said Libby Bent, a member of the opposition group.
She pointed to the city's recent comprehensive plan which she said called for "growth where there is existing infrastructure - not sprawl."
"To me this is the antithesis of that. And to not involve the public in this ... just seems to me as if the process is not what it should be," Bent said.
But Keith Hamre, director of planning and economic development for the city of Duluth, said the potential reuse of municipal golf course lands was discussed at length at meetings held across the community as the comprehensive plan was being developed.
"At that point, we had talked about giving the city flexibility in looking at the future redevelopment potential, if that was the choice the city makes moving forward," he said.
Hamre also said the city's new proposal to develop a 50-acre land parcel is consistent with the idea of hooking into existing infrastructure.
"That's why the 50 acres adjacent to an existing developed area is being proposed and not the portion that was further up the hill. We went away from that because that would have extended our utilities and infrastructure," he said.
Ryan Jones-Casey, another member of Keep Lester Green, said: "In general, we're just opposed to this notion of selling public park land."
In order to sell park property to a private party for development, eight of Duluth's nine city councilors would need to approve the deal.
Jim Filby Williams, Duluth's director of public administration, noted earlier that the current plan is the product of about 15 months of work involving a golf advisory committee.
Bent said she commends the city for that extensive process.
"With that one group there was a lot of input and a lot of good discussion," she said. "But now this is really the next stage, where this is a separate issue in terms of selling off public park land. It requires all the stakeholders to be pulled into the discussion, and that has not been done. I would say the stakeholders are essentially all the citizens of Duluth in this case," she said.
Jones-Casey warned against giving too much weight to the golf advisory committee.
"The mayor and the administration have managed to convince the golf task force that this is a reasonable proposal, and they were able to get unanimous approval from that task force. But it's such a narrow user group that has been involved in looking at these proposals, and Keep Lester Green would hope that there would be an opportunity for a much broader set of citizens to weigh in on the proposed sale of our public land that is literally owned by every citizen in Duluth, not just the folks who enjoy golfing," he said.
Hamre maintains there will be ample opportunity for additional community involvement.
"There's quite a bit of process yet to be had," he said.
"The first step would be the future land use changes, which went through an extensive public process. And the next step would be a resolution of intent to go forward with potential RFP (request for proposals) development. Then those will have to go back through both the Parks Commission and the Planning Commission before they go to the City Council again, so there's going to be a public process in looking at the development potential," Hamre said.
Jones-Casey said he expects members of Keep Lester Green to mobilize and make their voices heard, with their first opportunity to do so at Wednesday's meeting of the Duluth Park Commission.