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The Red Planís Urban Renewal
or acquiring homes through E D - Erectile Dysfunction

By Harry Welty

In 2007 there was little or no public disclosure about the possibility of using eminent domain to acquire property. The people whose homes were likely to be acquired were not contacted until 2008 the year after the School Board race during which the use of such a law could have made a significant difference in the electionís outcomes.

The power of Eminent Domain has been used with abandon in the Red Plan. 41 properties including 39 homes are being acquired. For nine million dollars the Cityís tax base will be reduced and many homes will be turned into parking lots.

In some cases homeowners or landlords have been willing and a few eager to surrender their homes. In one location, Denfeld High School constant pressure from students parking in the neighborhood has probably made homeowners more willing to sell.

As a school board member I was very aware of the unhappiness of many Denfeld homeowners about being overrun with studentís parked cars in front of their homes. It was an ERA of penny pinching but I inquired about the possibility of purchasing vacant land for parking to the south of the school on Grand Avenue . See Google Earth image of the lot.

One objection to this would be the necessity of having students in such a parking lot cross busy Grand Avenue to reach school because it would have posed a safety issue. On the other hand they would have had to drive along Grand Avenue to get to Denfeld in the first place and that too is something of a hazard.

The distance to Denfeld from a parking lot on the south side of Grand Avenue would only have been about two blocks a distance that is similar to that which East High students park in the rented Holy Rosary parking lots. Many students at Denfeld H.S. park in residential areas much farther away and have to cross many streets (although not particularly busy ones) to walk to the high school.

My suggestion of acquiring this land which I once raised with Kerry Leider was not pursued. I donít know if anyone from JCI ever considered using eminent domain to acquire this vacant land. No one would have lost a home as a result.

In the Lester Park Elementary school neighborhood homes across the street are also being targeted for eminent domain. The school sits on a block which it shares with a number of homes on the western side of the block. While I was on the school board the District was slowly acquiring these homes as they were being vacated by homeowners. Eminent Domain was never considered. In time we might have faced the prospect of using the law but only for those buildings on the same block as the school.

Under the JCI plan homes are now being acquired for parking lots across from the school. Ironically one of them is owned by a man who for years has asked the city for permission to put a garage on his property. He has been repeatedly been turned down because his land sits on a watershed. Now JCI will acquire his property by eminent domain and turn it into - a parking lot. This is one of the issues which Duluth ís Planning Commission was worried about when it approved much of the Red Plan as ďseparateĒ projects allowing them to proceed without a time consuming environmental review. The Commission warned that Lester Park was one of the separate projects that would require additional review when it was closer to development.

The reason that E. D. is being considered for Lester Park is troubling. A new school with parking lots could easily fit on the block which the school already sits on. All that would be required to construct it on a single lot would be to have its students sent for one year to other nearby schools, Rockridge and Ordean Middle school . Then Lester Park could be torn down and rebuilt. A year later the students could be returned and no home acquisition would be needed across the street. When I was on the School Board former Superintendent Mark Myles seriously suggested that Ordean be converted to an elementary school and for a couple years it had both 5th and 6th grade students. (Rather than have her elementary school daughters attend Ordean, Current School Board member Judy Seliga-Punyko took them out and sent them to an elementary school in Two Harbors.)

It would be relatively easy to transfer the students out of Lester Park for a year because of the Districtís current 28% over capacity. There would be plenty of room to house these students for a construction year.

The aggressive five-year building schedule that JCI devised makes this unworkable. So many building will be under construction that it will not be possible to transfer Lester Park students for a single year and so they will have to stay in the old school while a new one is constructed on the same block. This requires putting in parking lots across the street to make the construction possible and this is why eminent domain must be used to acquire homes across the street.

Unlike the acquiescent Denfeld neighbors the Lester Park neighbors are putting up a fight. Time will tell whether they will win or whether they too will be relocated because the Red Plan was a rush job.


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