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Proposed Kenwood townhome project tabled by Duluth planning commission

The future of a proposed townhome development in Duluth’s Kenwood neighborhood remained a question mark, after a meeting of the city’s planning commission Tuesday night.

By a 7-1 vote, commissioners voted to table any action on the project until questions could be answered about parking, storm- water management, lighting and future plans for an abutting property the developer aims to designate as a separate parcel in hopes of accommodating additional  construction there.

The only commissioner who voted against tabling the matter was Timothy Meyer.

“I’m personally opposed to having higher-density housing like this built in a single-family neighborhood,” Meyer said.

Dozens of Kenwood residents showed up at Tuesday’s meeting to voice their objections to the project.

Developer Jason Ross expressed his appreciation for people coming out to share their thoughts on the proposed six-unit townhouse development at the northeast corner of Mississippi Avenue and Lyons Street. He described his plans for “a high-end development,” with each unit containing three to four bedrooms.

“We’re doing our best to be a good neighbor,” he said, noting that the building will have the appearance of a one-story structure from Mississippi Avenue, but will gain height in the back end, due to the slope of the hill on which it will sit. At its maximum height, the proposed two-story townhouse development would be expected to stand 28 feet above the ground.

“We know there are views in this neighborhood, and our intention is not to impede those views,” he said.

Ross also said he was pursuing a plan to create an underground storage area to capture and hold any water that would otherwise run off the property.

But William Krossner, who lives on Brainerd Avenue, below the site where the proposed townhouses would be built, expressed his doubts that a high-density development would not create run-off headaches.

Frank Wanner, who has lived on Mississippi Avenue for nearly 16 years, cautioned that allowing the project into the mix could have a profound impact on a neighborhood that’s already under pressure.

“What we’re concerned about is fundamental changes within the fabric of the neighborhood that will alter its tapestry to the point that it’s no longer recognizable,” he said, asking: “Do we have a plan for what we want in the city of Duluth? Do we want to encourage young families with children to come in? Do we want to encourage people who are going to be in that neighborhood for a considerable period of time versus people who are renting for six months or a year and then moving on?”

Planning Commissioner Garner Moffat said he was disheartened to hear several people suggest disparaging things about renters, and noted: “A lot of nice people live in townhouses.”

Moffat said the commission must balance the resistance to change in a neighborhood with other concerns.

“We’ve always tried as a commission and a city to support mixed neighborhoods, infill development. We do have a housing shortage so I think that looking at some of these infill lots, where we can fit in development, is a good thing,” he said.

Yet Moffat said he favored tabling the project until more details were available.

The matter will likely return to the planning commission when it next meets Tuesday, Sept. 9, commission Chairman David Sarvela said.

Commissioners also pushed forward with additional high-profile projects Tuesday:

-- They approved plans for a proposed 91-room, four-story Hampton Inn & Suites to be built behind the Texas Roadhouse restaurant off Mall Drive.

-- They also approved plans to build a new Burger King and Caribou Coffee shop on the lower side of the 2100 block of London Road. Both businesses would offer drive-in service, but they also will be designed to accommodate foot and bike traffic.

Detailed plans for lighting, landscaping and storm-water management still will need to be approved by city staff before either of the projects can be built.