County, Neighbors Disagree on Best Use for Public Property

Baihly Warfield
April 17, 2017 10:28 PM

For 30 years, half a dozen Lincoln Park neighbors have taken care of a piece of public property behind their homes. They've added a picnic table, wishing well, gardens and more. 

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"We live here, we have to look at it, so we decided to do the work ourselves," Mike Kohn, one of the residents, said. 

They recently called the county to let them know there was a dead tree. When Land and Minerals Department employees went to check it out, they saw the neighbors' handiwork. 

"There's a staircase, there's a fire ring, there's some other things that are by statute, they're not allowed," Dana Kazel, communications manager for St. Louis County, said. "We're happy the neighbors made use of (the land), but they can't have permanent structures on (it)."

Mike and Jackie Kohn don't see the harm. 

"They make me feel like I'm a squatter, and I'm not a squatter here. I'm just trying to have it nice for my own peace of mind," Mike Kohn said. "If I'm maintaining it, I don't feel I'm hurting anything."

"It's really healthy to laugh and have something to do," Jackie Kohn, who likes to maintain the gardens, said, "something you love keeps you younger longer."

The Kohns said after an ice storm in the early '90s, someone from the county came out to check on downed trees, saw what they were doing and said they should keep maintaining the land. But according to Kazel, the county doesn't have any record of that. 

Kazel said before anyone starts cleaning up and taking care of a property, they should contact the county. 

"There's questions about liability. What if someone were to get hurt on those lands?" Kazel asked. "There's all those kinds of issues."

The Superior Hiking Trail and the Duluth Traverse Trail also cross through the land. Kazel said the trail associations went through the process to get permission. The county is talking to the city of Duluth to see if it might want to take over ownership. 

"If a local jurisdiction wants the property, they get first dibs on it," she explained. 

Kazel said trying to determine the best use for a tax forfeited piece of land can involve many partners. 

"What's appropriate for the neighbors, what's appropriate for the great community and for county taxpayers as a whole?" she said. 

St. Louis County has around 900,000 acres of tax forfeited land, much of it forest, Kazel said. There are three auctions per year to try to get rid of some of those properties. 

The Lincoln Park parcel is not on the list to be sold anytime soon. 

The Kohns said they don't see the logic in letting the land go. They're worried if the brush grows in again, it will be a fire hazard. 

"They tell you to pick up dirt in the streets and keep your sidewalks clean," Mike said. "So I come and do this, and now I'm being chastised for it."

It will take more time to figure it out, but both sides agree they just want to see the property used in a positive way. 


Baihly Warfield

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