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County board opts to support art gallery on County Road 44

Cook County, Minnesota
Cook County, Minnesota

There was a meeting of the Cook County Board of Commissioners Tuesday, July 24. The following discussion and action items occurred during Tuesday’s meeting.
Public Comment
The meeting started with a public comment period. Local residents Steve and Sharon Frykman spoke about an art-gallery business they would like to open on County Road 44. The topic was on the agenda for later in the meeting, but the Frykmans said the business would be a low-impact, seasonal art gallery that would not change the character of their quiet, rural neighborhood.

Also speaking about this topic was local resident Mike Schelmeske. He asked the county board to not approve the Frykman’s art gallery. Schelmeske says he and some of the neighbors in the immediate area found out about the art gallery in a local magazine that published the hours of the business. He added that County Road 44 is one of the last places in the county that is a quiet neighborhood.

Another local resident voicing concern about the art gallery was Myra Theimer. She echoed the sentiments of Schelmeske, saying County Road 44 is not equipped for increased traffic and that privacy is a key element that makes the neighborhood what it is. Another concern about the art gallery, as expressed by Theimer, was the impact a business would have on the “night sky” in the neighborhood.

Community Center – Synthetic Ice
Diane Booth opened the regularly-scheduled meeting by explaining to the county board the process of appointing individuals to the community center board of trustees. She did so largely because the commissioners were asked to approve appointing Jim McDermott to replace Bill Parish on the community center board. Parish is moving away from the community and needs to vacate his seat on the board.

Commissioner Bobby Deschampe inquired about the process of appointing new members to the community center board. Booth said the positions are advertised when they are up for renewal, and are appointed when individuals vacate the seat, as was the case with McDermott and Parish.

In more news from the community center, Booth explained the county and community center have the option to rent or sell the eight synthetic ice sheets they purchased in 2011 for $3,000. The synthetic ice was purchased for the local youth hockey association, but they didn’t like the feel of it and the sheets have been in storage for the past seven years.

A locally based ice performance company spearheaded by Cook County resident Deb Mueller is interested in the synthetic ice to use in a performance they are planning to participate in soon in Minneapolis. Mueller is willing to pay $800 to the county for the ice sheets.

After discussion on selling the synthetic ice sheets, the board voted to sell the ice sheets on the public market. If a bid not exceeding $800 came in, the sheets would be sold to Mueller.
Highway Department
Also Tuesday, Krysten Foster, the county’s highway department engineer, spoke about the county’s mailbox post policy. This was the focus of the Committee of the Whole meeting from July 17. The idea for the policy is to promote or encourage local property owners to install swing-away mailbox posts. There is the option the county would fund some of those posts if certain state-aid construction projects are taking place, otherwise they can be purchased from the county for $75.

The board made the motion to accept the policy on a unanimous vote.

Foster also shared an update on the County Road 17 upgrades and construction project. The low bid for the project came in at more than $4 million, which is about 17 percent higher than the county budgeted for, Foster explained. And while there are funding challenges associated with the project, Foster praised the cooperative relationship with the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa to make the necessary improvements to the road. Foster said the county does have supplemental funds to move the project forward, despite the higher than expected costs.

The board discussed the possibility of waiting one more year to do the improvements to the road and rebidding in the spring of 2019, but ultimately voted 5-0 to support the project at the bid of more than $4 million from Northland Constructors based in Duluth.
Land Services
Following up on the discussion during the public comment period about the art gallery on County Road 44, Bill Lane from the county’s land services department spoke about the interim-use request from the Frykmans regarding the business. An interim-use permit and conditional-use permit are different in that an IUP is reevaluated more often and must be reapproved after supplemental reviews and a certain amount of time. The first review of the permit and its stipulations would be at the end of 2018.

Lane said a number of neighbors in the area adjacent to the art gallery wrote in support of the plan, while others voiced concerns about promoting or showcasing an art studio on the dead-end road. With that in mind, the planning commission voted 4-1 to support the business model, Lane said.

Commissioner Jan Sivertson said this is among “the least black-and-white issues” she has dealt with in her time on the county board. Inviting tourists into one of Cook County’s most private neighborhoods is a reason to be concerned, she said. The idea of opening some of Cook County’s private and quiet neighborhoods is a topic that is both complex and challenging, she added.

After a lengthy discussion, including if supporting this project would set a precedent for oversight on land use and road traffic in Cook County, the board ultimately voted 4-1 to support the project, with Commissioner Bobby Deschampe voting against the art gallery on County Road 44.

The audio below contains more information about the art gallery on County Road 44.