Tuesday, February 28, 2006

One Person's Vision of What GM Can Be/What's Yours?

Dear True,

Since we know change is inevitable, isn't it best if we, the fans of Grand Marais, formulate what that change should be rather than letting the current "powers that be" stumble along in what has already been proven to be mis-guided thinking?

For instance, it is probably accurate to say that the harbor does need some tweaking since last summer it smelled of sewage for three days, but does it need a complete facelift and breast augmentation? I don't think so. Harbor Friends had a plan for a reasonable retooling, didn't they? Why do we have to sacrifice the Dragon Boat Races to the choked motor boat traffic the mayor seems to think we need? Why not add a few more (quiet) sailboat moorings and one or two more motor boat slips and call it a day? Wouldn't that be more cost effective, too? We could take the saved money and build a better library.

Instead of relying on the crass and vulgarly wealthy to keep our economy afloat, why can't we attract the type of individual we'd like to attract to the area, namely, craftsmen, artists, writers, and nature lovers? North House School is already well on the way by attracting a large number individuals who are interested in preserving historic skills like boat building, woven furniture, identifying medicinal herbs, etc. I'd like to see the Art Colony flourish as well with visiting artists who could conduct seminars for reasonable fees in exchange for a short vacation (room and board) in beautiful Grand Marais -- they could paint for themselves as well. I'd like to see more writing seminars held, possibly with famous authors. We're already the focal point of people who love nature -- let's just keep it that way by not attracting yuppies with Hummers to ruin the town.

I like it that Grand Marais has an old-fashioned feel. I think we shouldn't have any buildings taller than 30 ft. I think there should be an open airway of ten feet between buildings and no one building should have a continuous frontage of more than "x" number of feet. This would prevent any further mistakes (like Cobblestone Cove) from blotting out the views. I think all buildings should look old even if they are new. They should look like 1955 or earlier and we should have a planning commission that has an aesthetic branch to make sure no more Cobblestone Cove-type blunders get passed.

I think we should confine all fast food franchises to Highway 61 from the top of the hill west to the Howling Wolf and none of these franchises should be allowed to build modern frontages but should instead be saloons, art deco diners, or 1950's drive-ins. No golden arches, Burger King or Culver signs.

We should keep ourselves a town of small businesses and steady employment by refusing to let mass merchandisers build anywhere near us. All car lots, appliance stores, grocery stores, strip malls, etc. should have a maximum square footage limit and be confined to the east end of town. All strip malls must have each unit wear a different old-fashioned facade so they don't look so uniform and dull.

Anyway, those are a few of my thoughts. Thanks. A Fan of Grand Marais

What's Next?

Dear True,

I just printed off Minnesota Calling. http://www.campaignforconservation.org/sites/3fb33134-6e71-466a-aa62-d6de3045fa4d/uploads/Minnesota_Calling_Full.pdf

Everyone who cares one way or the other needs to read this report - read it and, hopefully, be scared into action. It can help energize those of us who care and bring others to the side of reason. We need to be about the business of finding ways to protect what we have and restoring all we can.

The assault is not just on the environment. It is on all fronts and threatens the very culture of the state and region. It seems endless, but there is still time for a course correction, but not much time, so we have to get moving now! What kind of Minnesota do we want?

John Haluska

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Harbor Lights

Harbor Lights: Reflections from Grand Marais

As large row houses began to proliferate in the Grand Marais harbor these past months, many people have been feeling bereft, excluded from a fast track for developers that does not include our community, or our collective perception of our priceless harbor. A recent CD, “Grand Marais, a Minnesota Jewel,” said it all, and set her price above rubies.
Because of a nationwide trend toward big developers invading all the remaining lakeside and seaside villages not yet turned into Disney Fantasy Land, our own rich history and beautiful unspoiled harbor are hanging by a slim thread, the thread of love. Countless visitors, summer residents, new immigrants who have sacrificed material success to live here, Native Americans, and locals who honor the land their ancestors settled stand to lose their heritage, and rather quickly.
Big developers have been going door-to-door, trying to grab up land and build large invasive structures ever since the decision by City Council to allow condominium development in the harbor without a conditional use permit, in April of 2005. Since that time, three outside developers have gotten permits to build large condominiums that block public views of the lake and are affordable only by the wealthy. Two of the three are already standing. The first, “East Bay Suites,” was sold by a pair of Twin Cities developers calling themselves “Gunflint Gals” and convincing many that they were locals.
So, what is a conditional use permit? What ordinances exist to protect the harbor from invasive developers? What common vision exists in Grand Marais for protection of its natural resources? What can be done when outside developers insist that they have the right to seize the common benefits we all share as a historic fishing village, and an open harbor beloved by all who visit here?
John LaVine, former Grand Marais mayor, has suggested that we look to state law which permits “Aesthetic Zoning.” In other words, developers who don’t meet our aesthetic standards can’t build here.
There are other guidelines that can help to save our harbor. True North is not against development. We welcome development that will enhance the beauty and uniqueness of Grand Marais and especially the harbor. One very good example is our own Grand Marais Comprehensive Plan, created in 1992. The intent of the plan was to guide revisions to ordinances developed about 20 years earlier to conform to a common vision for preservation and enhancement of downtown and especially the harbor.
The comprehensive plan outlines different development guidelines for different parts of town.
There are other standards in process, including the Cook County subdivision ordinance and the North Shore Management Board lakeshore mandates effective July 1, 2006. NSMB has members from every zoning authority, including Grand Marais and Cook County. It is like a super-board over local authorities. Local ordinances are expected to conform to NSMB by July 1, 2006. Its standards apply to all development within 1,000 feet of Lake Superior. Its purpose is protection and preservation of the shoreline.
Grand Marais harbor belongs to all of those who live here or nearby, who visit every year, and who are summer residents. Its beauty is not for sale to private owners, no matter how rich. The harbor belongs to all of us who love it.
Here are some highlights from the Grand Marais Comprehensive Plan regarding “protected resources” and “harbor development”:
· Preserve and enhance views of Lake Superior and the Harbor.
· To reserve open space in harbor area in natural state.
· To provide public access to all Shoreland along the harbor and walkway.
· Assess relocation of power plant, storage garages and electrical substation and replace with Public Park.
· Allow a quality blend of park, walkways and commercial development in keeping with fishing village and “northwoods” character.
Here at True North, we hope that all interested citizens of Grand Marais and Cook County will seek more information at City Council meetings. Also that seasonal residents and tourists will stand up and present their views, despite the Council’s stated prejudice against all who are not city residents, even those living within a mile of the city outskirts. Grand Marais, the Minnesota jewel, belongs to all.l
The North Shore ecology is fragile; vegetation including trees is rooted in bedrock and wastewater treatment requires built-up mounds in septic fields, especially given the rush to intensive development. To preserve the land as we know it for our grandchildren, utmost care and thoughtfulness will be required.
We welcome your constructive suggestions and comments by email at truenorthgm@gmail.com.


Sunday, February 05, 2006


Welcome to True North! True North blogs news and views about events and politics as they affect and involve the Minnesota Arrowhead and especially Lake Superior and its North Shore from Duluth to Grand Portage.