Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Conditional use permit OK’d for Ely Community Center

Sale of 1930s landmark set for Friday

Keith Vandervort
Posted 12/12/18

ELY – Parking issues around the Community Center dominated a public hearing here last week before the city’s planning commission voted unanimously to grant a conditional use permit sought by the …

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Conditional use permit OK’d for Ely Community Center

Sale of 1930s landmark set for Friday


ELY – Parking issues around the Community Center dominated a public hearing here last week before the city’s planning commission voted unanimously to grant a conditional use permit sought by the city of Ely as it prepared to close on the sale of the city landmark on Friday.

A Minneapolis couple, Africa and Jimmy Yoon, propose to develop a Korean cultural and educational center at the Community Center. The city council accepted their $30,000 offer for the abandoned building which has been vacant for about four years. The building has been rezoned and the real estate transaction is on track to close by the end of the year. The conditional use permit is required for the activities planned by the Yoons’ K America Foundation in the historic building.

A representative of the potential buyers, Wayne Kangas, of Hibbing, referred to himself as an “ambassador” for the K America Foundation at the hearing, and explained the Yoons’ request.

The conditional use permit will allow the future owner to conduct a destination-based cultural camp and activities center, including educational programming, overnight accommodations in a dormitory setting, food service, and entertainment for participants as outlined in the K America business plan. The CUP also sets conditions of operation for the property, including parking restrictions and other limits to ensure that the center is compatible with a residential area.

The proposed the camp is still years away from opening, and will require as much as $3 million in building renovation and rehabilitation.

The public hearing was lightly-attended and discussion centered on parking. Doreen Steklasa, in a letter to the commission, noted: “With the Post Office and a large rental unit on the 100 block of Harvey Street, parking is already at a premium.”

Anne Kaskinen, a nearby property owner, said she supports the request for the CUP, but asked to add a particular condition: “There shall be parking by cars and pickup trucks only on Harvey Street between Central Avenue and Second Avenue.” To further clarify this, Kaskinen suggested language stating that no buses or large commercial charter vehicles shall park or stand waiting in this area.”

“I’m looking at not impacting the neighborhood by having large buses sitting outside the Community Center building all weekend while they have their camp. A lot of people, in the summertime, actually come all the way down to Harvey Street and some of the avenues to park because there is timed parking downtown. They look for a place to park all day long and that is right in front of my house. I just don’t want to see it further impacted.”

Planning commission member George Burger, who is also a sergeant for the Ely Police Department indicated that parking restrictions would be better served by referring to city ordinances already in place.

City Attorney Kelly Klun said the city ordinance actually does cover the restrictions of large vehicles parking on city streets, except for sufficient time to load and unload. “The city ordinance should alleviate that concern,” Klun said.

Planning commission member Mike Banovetz questioned the Ely Police Department’s diligence in enforcing the city’s parking ordinance. “Is that something that Anne can rely on?” he asked Police Chief John Lahtonen, “or is that something that you only do when Anne calls in to complain?”

Lahtonen said the Police Department would respond to those complaints.

“I don’t want to sound like a whiner, but I guess I will if I see it impacting our parking,” Kaskinen said.

No other residents chose to speak in favor or against the granting of the conditional use permit.

Kangas said that specific concerns on the volume of traffic or potential parking congestion were too early to address. “It is too hard to define how it will play out,” he said. “The K America Foundation wants to be the least invasive when it comes to parking issues.”

He described scenarios where people are bussed in and dropped off at the cultural center and then picked up later.

Banovetz pressed Kangas on how many participants would be involved in attending the cultural center. “Is it possible that parents would be staying over for some period of time with their children at this camp?” he asked.

“Ideally this would be for children during the summer,” Kangas said. “Adults may come on the weekend or for a short period of time.”

“Logistically, the busing idea sounds good on paper, however, there is a higher likelihood that they would be driving up here with their children,” Banovetz said. “There will be an increase of parking and traffic just for that reason. I’m not convinced that the busing idea will alleviate the parking concerns.”

Burger said that following parking rules in any city is everyone’s responsibility, to “pay attention to the signs and follow the appropriate laws.”

Parking for staff and employees at the cultural center is still under consideration, according to Kangas. “We are open to what works for the community,” he said.

Mike McCoy, who owns the house just east of the Community Center on Harvey Street, offered to sell his property to the Yoons so they can tear it down and develop a parking lot.

Banovetz, who said he lived in Korea for two years just about five years ago, asked Kangas what kind of culture they will be teaching the Korean youth. “Korea is evolving tremendously, in fact the Korean culture is almost gone. It is a very hip-hop country right now.”

Kangas replied, “It is still a very traditional culture. We honor that and blend in and honor our traditions in their experience.”

The planning commission voted 6-0 to grant the conditional use permit.


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