One of the things Steven Bystedt and Carrie Lee Heikkila loved about their Duluth condo was the huge picture windows. On clear mornings, they could look out onto the misty waters of Lake Superior. The pair aren’t married anymore, but they still jointly own the unit and have enjoyed many quiet, harborside days there with guests.
That is, before 2014. That was the year Maurices – the women’s clothing company – started building an 11-story office tower and 491-space parking ramp across the alley. The project, which was an $80 million "public-private" collaboration between Maurices and the city, was completed two years later. The ramp’s elevated entrance ended up cheek-to-cheek with Bystedt and Heikkila’s condo.
According to a complaint they filed in district court last year, things went way downhill from there. The bustle of cars coming and going made the condo shake. The din from the next-door building’s generator and air units blared on and off.
Worst of all, they ended up installing screens over their large picture windows and keeping them closed. How else were they supposed to shield themselves from curious drivers and glaring headlights zipping in and out of the ramp?
So Bystedt and Heikkila filed suit against Maurices and the city. They claimed building an office tower and a busy ramp right next door amounted to “an invasion” of their property rights and a “public taking of their property,” according to the Duluth News Tribune. They believed their condo had lost significant value since construction, and they wanted compensation.
There’s anecdotal evidence they may be right. According to the complaint, a neighboring condo that had sold for $400,000 prior to Maurices crashing the party went for only $249,000 afterward.
Tenth Judicial District Judge Suzanne Bollman agreed they may have a case – just not against Maurices. An attorney for the company argued that, as a private corporation, it couldn’t legally “take” anything, and Bollman summarily dismissed the suit. But she did allow Bystedt and Heikkila to sue the city.
“The city of Duluth has a duty to compensate private property owners for the taking of private property for public use, and the petition establishes a sufficient legal claim that a taking occurred,” she wrote. Since the two condo owners supposedly had a right to “quiet enjoyment” and “peaceful possession” of the place, they could argue the city had rendered both impossible by letting Maurices build next door.
The City Attorney's Office declined to comment on this story, but Assistant City Attorney Elizabeth Seller previously argued that the owners hadn’t pointed out any specific property rights that had been violated, “much less the existence of a ‘taking,’” the Tribune reports.
A trial date has not been set.