A proposed rowing club boathouse in an Orono public park is on hold after members of the Dayton family said the project violates the spirit in which their father donated land for the park more than 40 years ago.
The city is considering a proposal from the Long Lake Rowing Crew to build a 7,600-square-foot boathouse and training facility at Summit Beach Park on the southeast end of Long Lake.
In a letter to Orono Mayor Dennis Walsh and other city officials, four children of the late Bruce Dayton — including former Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton — said they were "dismayed" to hear that the quiet 5-acre park might be further developed.
"When [their father] gave the land for Summit Park to the city of Orono, he was particularly pleased that the spot would be used by all the public of Orono for a simple swimming hole and picnic area," the Dayton siblings wrote. "He felt that these uses were in keeping with the natural beauty and quiet of East Long Lake, which he had worked carefully and long to preserve.
"We respectfully ask that you not approve this development as it is out of keeping with the intention of our father's very generous and far-sighted original gift."
Bruce Dayton, who died in 2015 at age 97, was one of five grandsons of George Dayton, who founded Dayton's, the department store that his descendants transformed into Target Corp., one of the world's largest retailers.
The Orono Planning Commission had the boathouse proposal on the agenda at its Tuesday night meeting, which drew a crowd of more than 40 people. But Jon Ressler, the commission vice chair, told the group that the proposal had been tabled at the request of the rowing crew.
In a statement, the crew said it had been encouraged by the city to move forward with its proposal, which has been in the works for more than two years.
The crew "had never previously been informed by the city of Orono of any restrictions placed on Summit Park when the land was donated by the Dayton family. We thank them for preserving the natural beauty and quiet of Long Lake and share their dedication to this special place."
The club has been keeping its boats at a makeshift outdoor facility elsewhere on the Long Lake shore, and said it's determined to find a permanent home.
"In keeping with our mission as a community organization dedicated to sharing this lifelong sport, we remain committed to providing access for everyone to the fun, health and camaraderie of rowing," the statement said.
A petition to preserve the park in its current state has gathered nearly 700 signatures. Barbara Schmidt, one of the petition organizers, said the city in recent years has shown a willingness to alter the character of preserved natural lands — for example, with a proposed mountain bike trail in Bederwood Park.
"It's a pattern of behavior, that's for sure," she said. "It seems like there's a lot of coordination behind the scenes and then, boom! We have only days to respond."
The Dayton letter took a similar swipe at the city, accusing it of hastily pushing through the boathouse proposal.
"It is particularly disconcerting to think that the 72-hour notice of a hearing over this development is being rushed over a holiday weekend as if to slip it by public notice and discussion," the letter said.
Adam Edwards, Orono city administrator, said research showed no legal barriers to the proposal.
"From the legal standpoint, any of the reviews we've done hasn't found any restriction that was placed on that land," he said. "And that's the feedback we've given the applicant.
"What decision the city makes is still very much in the air," he said. "If the applicant continues, the City Council will have to weigh all that input, both for and against, and make a decision."