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Kenwood townhome proposal stirs protest from neighbors

Talk of a proposed townhome development has been causing a stir in Duluth’s Kenwood neighborhood lately.

David Anderson, who lives on Brainerd Avenue, just below the would-be rental units, said he expects more than 20 neighbors to voice their concerns when the Duluth Planning Commission takes up a developer’s request for a special use permit at today’s 5 p.m. meeting in City Council chambers.

Green Capital LLC aims to put up a two-story townhouse development at the northeast corner of Mississippi Avenue and Lyons Street.

Plans call for six rental townhome units, each containing three to four bedrooms.

“They will be high-end units with two-plus bathrooms, in-unit laundry, stainless steel appliances, an open floor plan and ample parking,” said Jason Ross, the lead developer.

 “We worked very hard with the city to make sure this would fit into the neighborhood and not have a negative impact,” said Melissa Graftaas, a design architect with Architecture Advantage LLC.

But Anderson fears the 9,100-square-foot development will stick out amid the single-family homes of the area.

“It’s like dropping a hotel down in the middle of a residential area,” he said.

“The integrity of our neighborhood is at stake,” said Kim Roufs, who lives on Mississippi Avenue less than a block away from the proposed development.

Ross suggested the project actually will enhance the neighborhood.

“I don’t think it will devalue single-family homes,” he said. “It is a strong area, close to college campuses and local businesses, in addition to some nice Lake Superior views. We will be catering to a high-end rental client.”

Duluth city planner John Kelley noted that townhomes are allowed in areas zoned R-1 residential, as long as developers obtain a special use permit, and city staff is recommending the approval of the Mississippi Avenue project.

William Krossner, who has lived on Brainerd Avenue for 40 years, warned against development that could change the character of the area.

“Duluth needs single-family neighborhoods and housing like this to attract well-paid professionals to live here,” he said. “It would be a disaster, in my view, for the planning commission to allow this neighborhood to be chopped up for multi-family dwellings.”

Graftaas said site plans call for extensive landscaping, with a 14-space parking lot tucked behind the townhomes and a decorative wooden fence to screen neighbors from the headlights of vehicles as tenants arrive and leave.

Ross said the hillside development will make use of the grade to maintain a relatively low profile on Mississippi Avenue. “Along with landscaping, we’re making an effort to blend into the neighborhood, while not blocking views,” he said.

Anderson worries that increased runoff from the proposed townhomes and the parking lot may flood his home.

Graftaas noted that the plans include a pond to impound water on the site.

Kelley said the city engineering department would need to review and approve the development’s storm water management system before the project could proceed.

But Krossner places little faith in the water management plan. “Thousands of gallons of water will inevitably swirl down our backyards during heavy storms, regardless of what ‘storm water retention’ capabilities are installed,” he predicted.

Anderson anticipates additional traffic from the townhouse development could spell trouble, as well, especially during the winter, when many of the steeply graded streets are difficult to climb. He said that a single vehicle stuck on Lyons Street could keep multiple residents from being able to get to work.

Graftaas said steep roads can’t very well be used as an argument to halt development.

“I don’t see it being different than any other development in the city,” she said. “In Duluth, we have a lot of hills to deal with.”

If the planning commission votes to grant a special use permit for the townhouse development, Kelley said any dissatisfied neighbors would have no recourse.

Only an applicant for a special use permit has standing to appeal a planning commission decision to the Duluth City Council, and this typically only occurs when commissioners choose to deny a prospective developer a permit.