Planning commission OKs treatment center in Duluth mansionThe public meeting and vote came after a sometimes contentious meeting last week between neighbors and staff of the Center for Alcohol and Drug Treatment, which would lease the property for treatment of up to 24 women at a time for 60 to 90 days.
By: Mike Creger, Duluth News Tribune
After 90 minutes of discussion with the public, the Duluth Planning Commission approved a special-use permit Tuesday evening that will allow the Prindle mansion in the Endion neighborhood to be used as a residential treatment center for women with alcohol and drug addictions.
The public meeting and vote came after a sometimes contentious meeting held Thursday at the mansion between Center City Housing staff and neighbors along with those from the Center for Alcohol and Drug Treatment, which would lease the property for treatment of up to 24 women at a time for 60 to 90 days.
The center has been seeking an expansion for its Marty Mann House that has up to 14 women in a cramped space on 11th Avenue East. The program deals with women in the last stages of treatment as they are making the transition back into the community.
Center City is a nonprofit agency that seeks to create affordable housing in the region as well as transitional housing. It has 16 low-income housing projects in the city, including the San Marco Apartments for the homeless and chronic alcoholics, a project that the treatment center coordinates.
Prindle mansion neighbor Jill Eichenwald Cornwell is a member of the Center City board and recommended the Prindle site for the treatment center.
“I thought it fit the vision perfectly,” she told the commission Tuesday after describing the need for more space at Marty Mann.
“The whole point is green space,” Eichenwald Cornwell said. She said she has no doubt the treatment center will be a good neighbor.
The commissioners allowed 30 minutes for both sides in the debate.
Those against allowing the special use in the residential area worried about keeping the historical integrity of the home at 2211 Greysolon Road. Built in 1906 and loaded with important design details, its living room was dismantled in 1981 and placed in the Minneapolis Institute of Arts for display.
Beverly Goldfine called the Prindle home a “treasure” on unique space. She would rather see private ownership that would put the home on the tax rolls.
Commission member Henry Banks later countered Goldfine when expressing his support for the project.
“It is a treasure,” he said of the home. “And the people who are in need are a treasure as well.”
Cheryl Husby urged the commission to hold off on approval until the historic nature of the mansion could be researched. She submitted a petition from 90 people who don’t want to see any type of commercial venue at the mansion.
The commissioners discussed adding provisions to the permit, including assurances that the historic nature of the home be preserved.
But Planning Division Manager Keith Hamre warned against the commission stepping on private property rights when it comes to conditions. The special use permit is for the current site map; any significant changes, such as a garage or addition, would need to be approved by the city.
Hamre said asking Center City to do a historic assessment is reasonable but any requirements past that were not.
The commission approved the permit with the conditions that some landscape buffering be done, a possible gate be installed at one entrance, a limit on visiting hours, no new hard surfaces like parking areas, and an examination of the historic nature of the building.
Center City director Rick Klun was happy with the vote and that the commission could extract personal passions about the property from private property rights. Klun again said that portions of the five acres could be open to public use if the neighbors requested it.
“It’s an emotional issue for the neighborhood,” Klun said. “But I think we got a great compromise tonight.”
The Prindle mansion is owned by the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist, which ran the John Duss Music Conservatory there from 1982 to 2009.
The conservatory’s director, Sister Margaret Dahl, spoke with the News Tribune about the pending sale last week after the informational meeting took place.
“We feel good about it,” she said despite residents in the neighborhood balking at the idea of a treatment center. “Whenever somebody moves, things change.”
“It doesn’t cut across anything we do,” Dahl said when asked if the order considered the work of the treatment center parallel to its mission of helping in the community. “It feels like it could be a good use.”
The order, formed in 1978 in Duluth, has a mission statement that falls in line with the planned use:
“Dedicated in a particular way to the sacredness of human life and the inviolability of the human person, the community exercises its mission through programs of counseling, education, health care, music, land experience, and service to the family and the elderly.”
Had the sisters sold the home to a family, the neighborhood wouldn’t have any say and the mansion would have become even more inaccessible, Dahl said.
She said the home “doesn’t lend itself to a family” anyway. It’s a lot of room to manage, both inside and out, she said.
The sisters closed the conservatory because they knew its student population had peaked and wasn’t going to grow. She said that despite the popularity of the conservatory as a place neighbors and students could visit any time, it wasn’t a reason to stay open.
“We had fulfilled our mission,” Dahl said of the 27 years the conservatory was open. “We had to read the handwriting on the wall. We weren’t going to keep it going just so people could feel good. The conservatory wasn’t going to grow.”
Nuns lived in the mansion for about 18 months after the school closed in June of 2009. But because there was no longer a conservatory there, they were forced to sell the home, Dahl said.
The nuns certainly miss the home and the neighborhood, Dahl said.
“We always got along so well.”