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Duluth's vacation rental rules put to test

After repeatedly tabling a resolution that would have granted a controversial permit allowing a condominium at Beacon Pointe to operate as a vacation rental property, the Duluth City Council rejected that request Monday night.

City Hall

After repeatedly tabling a resolution that would have granted a controversial permit allowing a condominium at Beacon Pointe to operate as a vacation rental property, the Duluth City Council rejected that request Monday night.

By a 2-7 vote, the council turned down the request, with Councilors Jay Fosle and Noah Hobbs standing together in support of the resolution.

Council President Joel Sipress, who represents Duluth's 2nd District, including the Endion neighborhood where Beacon Pointe is located, explained his opposition to granting the permit.

"Our code calls for 'a dense urban screen' when necessary to provide privacy protection for neighbors," he noted.

But Sipress said that requirement cannot be fulfilled.

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"Having visited the property myself ... it's perfectly clear that there is no reasonable way that you could install a privacy buffer at that location, and on that basis, I believe the permit should be denied," he said.

Condo owners Laurie Anderson and Randy Holt make their primary home in Maple Grove, Minn., and had sought a permit so they could rent out their Beacon Pointe unit to guests when it was not in use. However, they were not present at Monday's meeting

Deirdre McCarthy, a Beacon Pointe resident opposed to the permit request, pointed out that the elderly woman who lives next door to the unit in question has a kitchen window that looks out directly on the neighboring patio.

"There's no way to provide 'a dense urban screen' to protect her privacy because the homeowners' association wouldn't allow for any buildout. It just wouldn't work with the design of the building, and if you were allowed to put something like that up, it would block her view of the lake," she said.

At Large City Councilor Noah Hobbs said the screening requirement in the city code calls for only partial coverage with materials that are not transparent.

After visiting the property, Hobbs said: "You could make the case that there is an urban screen off of the porch part for a little bit with the slats. So with language that is fairly vague, and it definitely is not see-through. I can't vote against this because the language is so vague. ... I can't find any reason to deny this."

For his part, 5th District Councilor Fosle said he intended to follow the recommendations of the Duluth Planning Commission which voted to recommend approval of the permit by a 6-1 margin.

At Large Councilor Barb Russ suggested the permit request wouldn't have even gotten as far as it had if city staff had more thoroughly inspected the property and provided better guidance to both the planning commission and the council.

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Sipress, too, said he was disappointed city staff hadn't flagged the privacy concerns associated with granting the requested vacation rental permit.

"I have to say that the neighbors deserve a lot of credit, because if not for their diligence this might just have slid right through," he said.

In light of issues that were brought forward at Beacon Pointe, Sipress said he and Russ were planning to offer amendments to the city code that would not allow vacation rental permits to be issued for units inside a secured building in the absence of 24-hour oversight. He said they also intend to include a requirement that vacation rentals in buildings governed by a homeowners' association must comply with the rules of that body.

In other business, the Council:

  • Approved $40,000 in funding to evaluate Fire Hall No. 11 on Woodland Avenue and offer some recommendations about whether it should be improved or replaced.
  • Approved a request by Eastridge Community Church to rezone property it owns west of Arrowhead Road and east of Swan Lake Road from R-2 Residential to a Mixed Use-Plan.
  • Passed a resolution amending a loan agreement with Northstar Aerospace.
Peter Passi covers city government for the Duluth News Tribune. He joined the paper in April 2000, initially as a business reporter but has worked a number of beats through the years.
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