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Kenwood neighbors oppose zoning changes

City staff and members of the Duluth Planning Commission got an earful Thursday evening, as about 50 upset residents weighed in on the proposed rezoning of several portions of their Kenwood neighborhood, sharing their concerns over the prospect of denser development there.

Andy Palumbo said she and her husband, Jim, have lived in their Kenwood home for 20 years now.

"We bought a house in a quiet residential neighborhood, never imagining it would turn into something else," she said.

City staff had proposed to rezone the "R-1" single-family residential area the Palumbos call home to a "mixed use-neighborhood" designation, potentially opening the door to commercial development and higher-density housing, such as apartment buildings.

At Thursday's meeting, city staff announced that they've stepped back the proposed zoning for "Area A," where the Palumbos live, to "R-2," allowing multi-family residential development such as apartment buildings, but less in the way of other commercial properties.

Adam Fulton, manager of Duluth's community planning division, said the plan was revised in light of residents' concerns.

"What we heard was a lot of concern about protecting the neighborhood and a lot of concern that MU-N (mixed use-neighborhood) wasn't the right fit for this location," he said. "We heard MU-N was too intense."

Fulton said the city also could require that future projects proposed in the neighborhood undergo a planned development process, where the city could mandate transition zones and buffers between high- and low-density areas.

Zandra Zwiebel, a member of the planning commission, said the proposed Kenwood zoning changes aren't being prompted by any pending or imminent project.

"There's not anybody knocking down the door, saying that we want to do any development," she said. But Zwiebel said the zoning change would bring the area in line with city's 2006 comprehensive land use plan, which is intended to guide long-term development in Duluth.

Duluth City Councilor Joel Sipress suggested the city take a step back.

"The future land use map is not written in stone. Maybe the future land use map itself needs to be rethought, because we have a fully built-up, stable, single-family home neighborhood, and a lot of the homes in that neighborhood are on the more affordable end of the price spectrum. That's something we need in Duluth," he said.

A memo from the city planning department said home values in the area generally range between $130,000 and $170,000.

Dave Thoreson lives on Warren Avenue and said he and his neighbors have invested thousands of dollars in their homes to create a vibrant and attractive community.

"That is a beautiful area, and I have no idea why we're even talking about the possibility of dislocating people from their homes for another apartment building." he said.

"Why are you planning to potentially take out homeowners who worked really hard, paid their taxes and don't want to be kicked out of that area?" Thoreson asked.

Fulton said the Kenwood area is one of 12 core investment areas that have been designated across the city.

"We need to achieve a certain level of density to be successful, and as I have said: That is not a simple thing," he said

As for the zoning changes, Fulton said: "This just creates more options."

But Andy Calumbo suggested the proposed rezoning disrespects the investments people have made in their homes.

"You're telling our neighborhood that our established homes are not as important as the new high-density housing you may be building, our families are not as important as the people you hope to attract to move into these buildings, and the lives we live and where we have chosen to live them are irrelevant," she said.

For now, the proposed zoning changes remain tabled by members of the Duluth Planning Commission. When, and if they act, their recommendations will be sent to the Duluth City Council, which will make the final decision about how the area should be zoned.