City council approves land transfer to HRA and welcomes new members and mayor
Kalli Hawkins

City council approves land transfer to HRA and welcomes new members and mayor

The Grand Marais City Council held its first meeting of the year on January 11, which included annual organizational activities, welcoming new members to the city council, and resuming regular business. 

Two new members joined the city council; Ben Peters and Aaron Carlson. In addition, the council welcomed Tracy Benson as the new mayor.

During the meeting, the city selected its official newspaper and financial depositories, made councilor and citizen assignments to various boards and commissions, and appointed a councilor to serve as acting mayor in the absence of Mayor Tracy Benson. For 2023, Craig Schulte will be the acting mayor. 

In addition to the organizational business, the city council discussed ongoing housing projects, street parking and snow removal, and resumed 2021 discussions of the snowmobile trail in the city. 

Housing and development projects

During the Jan. 11 meeting, the council members resumed conversations with Jason Hale, Cook County Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA) executive director, regarding the transfer of city property. The council previously met with Hale during the Dec.14 meeting.

The council unanimously approved a resolution to transfer property to the HRA for a residential development project. The resolution included two quit claim deeds. 

The transferred property is located on the northwest corner of 5th Avenue West and the inside curve of the Gunflint Trail in Grand Marais. The residential development project consists of a 51-unit mixed-income multifamily apartment building. The tentative name of the anticipated housing development is Sawtooth Flats.

Grand Marais Mayor Tracy Benson said the council included language in the deeds, “if for some reason this project does not move forward, we want to see this land come back to the city.” She added, “That was a really important piece.”

If a housing project is not completed within the allotted time outlined in the deeds, Benson said the property will “come back to us at the same price that we gave it to the HRA.”

The city of Grand Marais sold the property to the HRA for $1. 

The council discussed a second housing project currently in the works in Grand Marais.

Vesta Unchained is an anticipated 24-lot housing development located within city limits along County Road 7. The city previously approved the Vesta Unchained preliminary plat on June 29, 2022.

Due to unforeseen infrastructure costs, developer Chris Skildum is requesting additional resources from The League of Minnesota Cities.

The design engineer for Vesta Unchained indicated a need for a booster pump station to provide adequate water pressure for residential use and fire protection. The booster station is estimated to cost $500,000.  

The League of Minnesota Cities has a pilot program to provide $5,000 for cities to use to seek funding opportunities for select projects. Benson said The League of Minnesota Cities provides guidance and funding for a city to find an individual with the expertise needed to secure funding for various projects.

During the meeting, Mike Roth, the city administrator, said, “One of the things we need to learn is who’s the right person to spend this money on.”

He added, “We’re designating this project as our application. Hopefully, we’ll learn enough going through this process that will be applicable to other projects as well.” 

The council approved the resolution authorizing an application for the pilot program to seek funding for the Vesta Unchained housing project.

Street Parking, Snow Removal, and the Snowmobile Trail 

Each winter, city council discussions resume regarding street parking, proper snow removal, and the snowmobile trail through Grand Marais.

During the Jan. 11 meeting, the council moved forward with the first reading of the 5th Avenue parking ordinance. The city previously approved updating the existing winter ordinance to include the lower block of 5th Ave W. from 1st Street to Highway 61. The ordinance will take effect following the second reading at the next city council meeting.

In addition, the council discussed snow removal issues on city sidewalks, particularly surrounding the Grand Marais Post Office. The council also talked about the snowmobile trail in town and if it should be moved to the south side of Highway 61.

Similar conversations were had during the 2021 Jan. and Feb. city council meetings. The snowmobile trail has historically been located on the north side of Highway 61. However, at some point during the Highway 61 Minnesota Department of Transportation planning process, it was decided that the snowmobile route would be moved to the lower (south) side of Highway 61. The Cook County Ridge Riders Snowmobile Club was initially unaware of this change.

Following the move and redesign of the sidewalks, it was discovered the snowmobile groomer was too wide to fit on the south side. The snowmobile trail groomers are nine feet wide – wider than the redesigned 8.5-foot wide path. In addition, there are mailboxes and signs on that route that create a hazard for snowmobile riders. Due to this, the snowmobile trail was returned to its original place on the north side of Highway 61. 

However, the issue is not resolved. Benson said the city council would reach out to the Grand Marais Post Office and the Cook County Ridge Riders Snowmobile Club to find a solution to put the issue to rest.

Boards and Commissions

New councilor Aaron Carlson joins Grand Marais Mayor Tracy Benson on the Personal Committee. Carlson also joins the Active Steering Living Committee, CCLEP, and Arrowhead Animal Rescue board. 

Councilor Ben Peters will remain on the Planning Commission. He replaced Mayor Benson on the Downtown Business Coalition and replaced the previous Grand Marais Mayor Jay DeCoux as the liaison for North House Folk School. Peters also joined the Joint Powers Committee.

Mayor Benson will replace councilor Anton Moody as the city representative on the Cook County/Grand Marais Economic Development Authority. 

Mayor Benson said in an interview with WTIP following the Jan. 11 meeting, “several different people mentioned to me about the EDA, so I thought that was important, and I’m excited to learn what’s going on there and get involved.”

Councilor Craig Schulte will remain on the PUC Commission, Parks & Trails, and the Recreation Park Board. He will join the Safety Committee. 

Councilor Michael Garry will remain on the Planning Commission, ARDC, and Library Board. He will join the YMCA Advisory Board. 

Citizens appointed to various commissions were Enno Limvere to the Grand Marais Library Board, Stephen Aldrich to the Park Board, and Stacey Hawkins to the Planning Commission. 

WTIP’s Kalli Hawkins spoke with Grand Marais Mayor Tracy Benson following the Jan. 11 city council meeting. Audio from the interview is below.