A 75-unit, four-story apartment building could soon be coming to Duluth’s Lincoln Park neighborhood.
On Tuesday, the Duluth Planning Commission will consider a request for a variance that would open the way for Rachel Development, based in St. Michael, Minn., to erect a new building where the former Roberts Furniture now stands in the 2100 block of West Superior Street.
The developer proposes to dedicate most of the first floor of the structure to parking, with the remainder of the level accommodating a lobby, a fitness center, a common area and a management office.
A planning staff report notes that the proposed design runs afoul of a form-based code for the area that calls for “occupied space” on the ground floor facing the street “to promote active use of the street frontage (such as restaurant, retail, etc.) where it interfaces with the sidewalk and public realm, and to promote the appearance and vitality of the neighborhood.”
However, Rachel Development contends it needs to place parking on the ground floor because it is not economically feasible to construct underground parking for the apartment building.
A planning staff report says: “The applicant has stated that adding expensive retail space to a marketplace that has a glut of existing retail and office space is impractical and not financially feasible.” The developer also argues the space would be hard to fill, as the firm would need to charge more per square foot than what the market would bear, given other less expensive space already available in the neighborhood.
Much of the former Roberts building stands vacant, as the furniture store is no longer in business. Other tenants that have taken up some of the space include United Martial Arts and the Duluth Kennel Club.
The property actually consists of multiple buildings that were constructed between 1890 and 1901, but a single metal front facade was installed in 1979, according to a city planning report. Plans call for the demolition of the existing structures.
City planning staff have recommended that the Planning Commission grant the variance but that it hold the developer to an already submitted design for the property.
That design includes “an attractive facade on the ground floor facing the street” consisting of “brick and wood to complement existing structures in the immediate area,” according to a staff report.
The proposed building is expected to offer primarily studio and one-bedroom apartment units. No information on the expected rents for the building were immediately available Wednesday afternoon, as Rachel Development contact, David Stradtman did not return calls.
According to a company website, Rachel Contracting Inc., the parent company of Rachel Development, was founded in 2006 by Don Rachel. The firm boasts earthwork demolition, utilities and specialty contracting services.
Rachel Contracting claims to have “grown into a $100 million-a-year multi-discipline construction company” that has “successfully completed over 750 projects and counting.”