A different type of hotel appears to be on the horizon for Duluth’s Thompson Hill area.
Skyline Parkway Properties LLC aims to offer guests a choice of five detached sleeping units in a woodsy, private setting.
By an 8-0 vote, the Duluth City Council approved a special-use permit for the business Monday night, reversing a previous Planning Commission decision to deny the same. Planning commissioners were evenly split 3-3 on the vote, causing the application to fail nevertheless.
A request for the special-use permit described the hotel as consisting of “five unique separate 12-by-12-foot private sleeping units that are set into the 2-acre landscape to privatize the visitor experience,” with each unit screened from view from all others.
Architect Jacob Kieper said: “These are for the solo traveler, the adventurer or the couple with a small family, for the person who isn’t going to spend a lot of time indoors at a hotel. They’re for the adventurer or outdoor enthusiast.”
But some neighbors aren’t keen on the idea of seeing the development move in next door. The single-dwelling site already operates as a vacation rental property.
Mary Ellen Sjoberg resides in her home of 23-plus years adjacent to the proposed hotel, and tried to persuade the City Council to deny the special-use permit the business would need to execute its plans.
She questioned how the development could be characterized as a hotel, particularly when the sleeping units would have no running water, instead sharing access to a separate communal bathroom facility.
“These sleeping units hardly qualify as a modern-day cabin,” Sjoberg said. ‘They’re certainly not a hotel or motel by anybody’s standards.”
She suggested the so-called hotel was more akin to a campground with electricity.
“As a famous late-night comedian once said: If it walks like a duck, waddles like a duck, quacks like a duck … it’s a duck. It’s a campground," said Sjoberg, noting that a campground would not be allowed in an area zoned for mixed use-neighborhood development, as the property in question is.
But Kieper disagreed with Sjoberg’s characterization of the proposed development, saying: “What we’re proposing complies with the zoning code description of a hotel.”
City planning department staff apparently agreed, recommending the special-use permit be approved for the project.
Lisa Dupuis, who would own and manage the property with her husband, Bill, said the accommodations were modeled after other outdoor vacation destinations in Colorado ski country and near popular state and national parks.
Dupuis described the design of the tasteful cabins and the communal bathroom — consisting of two separate facilities — as “very high-class.”
Kieper credited the owners for the integrity of their vision saying: “These small sleeping units, in my opinion, exemplify what Duluth stands for as a friendly destination for the beautiful, the sublime and the unexpected. These cabins honor the site by blending in and creating a minimal footprint, and they offer a unique experience for the traveler.
Bill and Lisa Dupuis would provide on-site management of the property, in keeping with the way they oversee the current one-unit vacation rental.
Lisa Dupuis offered assurances that they would remain good neighbors, telling the council:
“I can show you all our reviews. These are people who enjoy the outdoors. These are families. These are not people to fear, and of course we abide by all the Duluth ordinances. Everything is quiet by 10 o’clock at night.”
Councilor Arik Forsman said he had reviewed the Dupuis’ business plan and stood ready to support their venture.
Councilor Joel Sipress did, too, noting: “The Planning Commission split 3-3 on this, and the only factor the three commissioners who voted ‘no’ cited was that the future land-use map in our comprehensive plan calls for a future rezoning of this area.”
But Sipress called the proposal “completely consistent with the current zoning,” and said, “While the future land-use map guides future development and future zoning, I think we owe it to landowners and entrepreneurs and residents to abide by the current rules as they exist.”