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Duluth officials to debate limit on number of renters per house

Duluth officials may rewrite an ordinance to peel away some of the students living in homes around the University of Minnesota Duluth and the College of St. Scholastica.

Duluth officials may rewrite an ordinance to peel away some of the students living in homes around the University of Minnesota Duluth and the College of St. Scholastica.

The ordinance change will come before the city's Planning Commission tonight, and the Duluth City Council could vote on it as early as Sept. 24.

If approved, the ordinance would change the definition of the word "family."

What most people view as a traditional family of related people would remain unchanged. Under the ordinance, the number of unrelated people who could live together in a single-family home would drop from six to four.

Supporters say the change is needed because hundreds of single-family homes have been bought in the past several decades and turned into rentals, often by Twin Cities investors and students' parents. Neighbors have complained about noise, lack of maintenance, crowded parking and sometimes-dangerous living conditions for tenants.

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"It's having a huge negative impact on our single-family residents," said At Large Councilor Jim Stauber, who wrote the ordinance.

Though the ordinance change in the definition of family has never been proposed in Duluth, it has been implemented in communities similar to Duluth across the country and is part of a larger effort to control student housing issues, proponents said. Just last month councilors approved a request requiring no more than one rental property for every 300 feet in neighborhoods zoned R-1.

"This is seen as a way of reducing the intensity of student use in some of the neighborhoods that were never designed to have four or five cars," Planning Director Bob Bruce said.

Tod Venberg, owner of WHY USA Northland Realty in Duluth, said the ordinance will cut into the profits of landlords who own homes with more than four bedrooms.

"It's definitely going to put a crunch into my type of business," Venberg said.

He warns the change also will dissuade some would-be homebuyers from purchasing in Duluth.

"We're driving people out of this town instead of bringing them into this town," he said.

Stauber countered that the ordinance would help keep students safe. He said he has heard stories of students living in basements and attics that aren't legal bedrooms.

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Myrna Matheson, a 47-year resident of the Endion neighborhood below Chester Park, is part of the Campus Neighbors Advisory Group and said she has heard the stories as well.

Matheson said she was told: "Oh yes, we have someone in the attic and someone in the basement" by a renter in her neighborhood last weekend.

Matheson said she has watched many homes in her neighborhood shift from being filled with families to just students.

"Duluth has been extremely fortunate to not have lost kids in fires," Matheson said. "They're not thinking about the things that could go wrong."

Current rentals wouldn't be subject to the new law until owners need to renew their licenses, which could be as long as three years away.

The Planning Commission meeting begins at 5 p.m. today in the third floor City Council Chambers of City Hall, 411 W. First St.

PATRICK GARMOE covers the Duluth community and city government. He can be reached weekdays at (218) 723-5229 or at pgarmoe@duluthnews.com .

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