City council discusses 2023 Art Festival, winter street parking, and preliminary levy

City council discusses 2023 Art Festival, winter street parking, and preliminary levy

After two years of being stationed up the hill in the Cook County School parking lots, the 32nd annual Grand Marais Art Festival will return to the downtown area.

However, businesses, artists, and individuals should expect some slight alterations. 

“They’re talking about curating the event a little bit more, which makes it a slightly smaller event,” said Grand Marais Mayor Jay DeCoux. He added, “It would still meet their goals and highlight a lot of local artists.”

While the temporary location on the school property provided numerous benefits, such as ease of setup, additional parking, and more space for artists, the annual festival experienced some downsides. 

“Definite cons for being up there was wayfinding,” said DeCoux. In addition, he said, the festival received feedback from artists, and there was a strong desire to be located near the harbor and in the downtown atmosphere.

The city council voted to approve the request to move the Grand Marais Art Festival downtown with the understanding that the city will need additional details regarding setup times and signage.

Winter Street Parking

During the Dec. 14 city council meeting, Robbie Hass, Cook County highway engineer, and Matt Nesheim, maintenance superintendent, requested the city update the existing winter ordinance. 

Hass and Nesheim requested adding language to the ordinance for the lower block of 5th Ave W. from 1st Street to Highway 61. The request would make the section a no-parking zone for both sides of the street. 

Nesheim explained during the meeting that the steep grade creates a public and crew safety issue when cars were parked on either or both sides of the street. 

DeCoux said in an interview with WTIP that there previously weren’t any parking restrictions on that section. He said, “If we want to have that service continue, we need to be able to have those pieces of equipment come through.”

The council directed the city attorney to draft language to add to the existing ordinance. The issue will be reviewed in the Dec. 28 city council meeting. 

Preliminary Levy

The city council initially set the preliminary levy at 5.91% in the Sept. 14 meeting. However, during the Nov. 30 meeting, the council updated the preliminary levy amount to 4%. 

During the Dec. 14 meeting, the city council reduced the preliminary levy amount even further. 

“The final levy increase percentage is a 2.76% increase over the 2022 levy,” Decoux said. 

City Administrator Mike Roth said the two reasons contributing to the decrease were a special projects line item and increased revenue from the Grand Marais Recreation Park.

DeCoux said the special projects line item is similar to an opportunity fund. “So we’ve used it for consultants’ work in the past. We’ve used it as matching funds for grants,” he said. “That fund typically doesn’t get used all that often.”

The city council will finalize the levy amount during the Dec. 28 meeting. 

Housing Redevelopment Authority

Multiple community members attended the Dec. 14 city council meeting in person or on zoom to support Jason Hale, Cook County HRA executive director. 

Hale spoke during the meeting to discuss a draft resolution regarding the conveyance of the city land inside the curve of the Gunflint Trail to the HRA for residential development.

DeCoux said, “It’s always encouraging to see folks from the community come in and tell us what they think and what they could mean to the community.”

While those who attended in support expected the project to be approved during the Dec. 14 meeting, after further discussion, City Attorney Chris Hood said additional paperwork was needed before official completion. 

DeCoux said the additional paperwork includes a resolution and a quitclaim deed on the property. In addition, per the suggestion of councilor Craig Schulte, the city will add a stipulation that if a housing development is not established within five years, the land will be returned to the city. 

The city council will revisit the item once the necessary paperwork is in order. 

Scholz Conditional Use Request

The city approved the recommendation from the city planning commission to deny the conditional use permit request for Terrence Scholz.

Scholz requested a conditional use permit to construct a 15-unit boutique off-grid resort on the Sawtooth Bluffs. The site was previously proposed for a zipline project.

The planning commission identified that the proposed resort was incompatible with the Sawtooth Bluffs, and the applicant needed to provide more information regarding development and infrastructure. In addition, the applicant did not provide sufficient evidence that the resort concept would successfully operate without connecting to municipal wastewater utility or electric utilities.

The city council voted unanimously to pass the resolution denying Scholz’s conditional use permit.

WTIP’s Kalli Hawkins spoke with Grand Marais Mayor Jay DeCoux following the Dec. 14 city council meeting. Audio from the interview is below.