City planning commission denies off-grid boutique resort request for Sawtooth Bluff area

City planning commission denies off-grid boutique resort request for Sawtooth Bluff area

A potential buyer and developer of a 21-acre site on Sawtooth Bluffs has been denied a request for a conditional use permit to develop a 15-unit off-grid boutique resort. 

The 21-acre site was previously proposed for a zipline project by Matt Geretschlaeger of Superior Zip Lines in 2012. The commercial/recreational property has been listed for sale since 2016. 

The Grand Marais planning and zoning commission first met with the potential new buyer and developer of the property, Terrance Scholz from St. Bonifacius, Minn., during a Sept. 7 meeting.

Scholz proposed to develop an eco-friendly, upcycled, sustainable off-grid boutique-style resort catering to active outdoor tourists. However, before Scholz finalized the sale of the property with Superior Zip Lines, he sought assurances and approval from the Grand Marais planning and zoning commission for a conditional use permit to develop the property.

The proposed off-grid boutique resort is called Blackbox Camp. Scholz said in addition to offering eco-living resort amenities for visitors, the resort would develop additional trails and overlooks on the property. 

Discussions with Scholz have been ongoing for months due to a request for further infrastructure information and detailed blueprints from the commissioners. During each meeting, the planning commission members questioned the viability of the modern infrastructure.

The off-grid concept planned to incorporate solar energy, solids and dark water composting, greywater filtration, windmills, dark sky lighting, and other Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) design guidelines. 

When explaining why they were denying the permit, the planning commission members said that even though they acknowledged and appreciated the modern and sustainable concept, the project was incompatible with the Sawtooth Bluffs area. The planning commission denied the request in a unanimous vote. 

“We want these things. We want to support business, and we want this, but we also have to protect this natural resource. We have to protect that backdrop to the city,” said Ben Peters, planning commissioner. 

Commissioner Stacey Hawkins added, “That Bluff is important. We’ve already had a failed project there. I want to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”

Before the meeting wrapped up, Scholz said to the planning commission members, “It’s something you’re going to struggle with continuously on this piece (of property) as long as it’s in private ownership.”

All of the planning commission members agreed.  

Audio highlights from the Dec.7 planning and zoning meeting is below.