A developer's plans to construct up to 275 units of rental housing on a 20-acre site on the south side of Arrowhead Road stirred concerns in a nearby lower-density neighborhood that the project could push unwelcome traffic onto narrow and relatively quiet residential streets in the area.
But Unique Properties LLC, led by developer Samuel Herzog, has pledged that it has no plans to fully extend Stanford Avenue from its current terminus at West Marble Street clear to Arrowhead Road in the foreseeable future. Instead, plans now call for the development called Arrowhead Acres to be accessed from the north off Arrowhead, via a shortened stub of Stanford Avenue — not a through-street.
Neighborhood fears of traffic running amok caused 4th District Duluth City Councilor Renee Van Nett to table action on a development agreement for the project Monday night, providing city staff and the developer an opportunity to directly address those concerns.
Speaking to the News Tribune by phone Thursday, Van Nett said: "I reached out to city staff and got some final discussion on it and then an email about it. Then, I went to constituents' houses this morning and told them that we'd solved that problem."
Had Stanford Road been punched through, Van Nett said, "Neighbors thought it would be too busy, and the existing road infrastructure couldn't handle that additional load. Also, there are quite a few families with young children living in the area, and there's a concern that traffic would go too hard and fast through that neighborhood. So, I thought that was pretty legit."
At large City Councilor Arik Forsman said he trusted Van Nett to accurately read the pulse of the neighborhood but added that he, too, was personally familiar with long-running concerns about vehicles attempting to snake through the residential area in search of a shortcut from Arrowhead Road to the Miller Hill Mall commercial district. Forsman acknowledged that talk of possibly turning Stanford Avenue into a through-street had only heightened fears of increased traffic.
"It's one of those balancing things whenever you have a large-scale development going in, with the changes in traffic patterns that can come about. And in this particular case, I truly understand the neighborhood, which consists of single-family traditional homes," he said.
In a letter to the council, Cheri Bushman, who lives on West Morgan Street, wrote: "I am not against the project, just this connection of the new Stanford Street to old Stanford Street at Marble. That connection would allow a direct traffic flow through our neighborhood."
Jason Hale, a senior housing planner for the city of Duluth, said that building a shortened segment of Stanford Avenue actually suits the developer's interests, too, as it lowers construction costs.
For now, the city will retain an easement for a potential future extension of Stanford, which can be used to provide access for utility lines and similar infrastructure, but Hale said there are no present plans to ever build an actual continuous road atop that easement.
Robert Fulton, another resident of West Morgan Street, wrote city councilors urging them "to permanently abandon a section of the proposed new portion of Stanford so that it can never connect to Marble Street and currently existing Stanford Avenue."
Although the Arrowhead Acres site could eventually accommodate up to 275 units of multi-family housing, the project will be built in steps, with the first phase bringing 115 units to the property, Hale said.
The location of the proposed apartment complex just off of Arrowhead strikes Hale as a good fit.
"It's on a main thoroughfare, with a bus line, which is terrific for those without cars of course. It's not far from multiple amenities, whether that's Miller Hill Mall or the Kenwood shopping area. And it's a sizeable site. We don't have a lot of those available left in Duluth," he said.
"Again, the concern is that there's traditional residential housing district right behind it. So, the fortunate thing with is that there are two things working in its favor — No. 1, purely the amount of space, because this development isn't going to take up the whole site and it will leave a decent amount of vacant land behind. And then also, there's a bit of a grade, creating sort of a natural separation or buffer for the residents to the rear and the side of this property," Fulton said.