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Duluth Planning Commission torpedoes sub shop plans

A special-use permit appeal could be filed.

Sub shop location.
The Duluth Planning Commission decided Tuesday, April, 12, 2022, to deny a special use permit for a Jersey Mike’s Sub Shop at 1303 W. Arrowhead Rd., across the road from Kenwood Center.
Steve Kuchera / Duluth News Tribune

DULUTH — Despite staff recommendations that they approve the project, the city's planning commission voted 6-1 Tuesday to deny a request for a special-use permit that would have allowed for the redevelopment of a single-family home at 1303 W. Arrowhead into a 3,500-square-foot commercial building, housing a 1,400-square-foot restaurant and 2,100 square feet of office space.

Mike Schoonover confirmed Thursday that he had hoped to open Duluth's second Jersey Mike's Subs shop in the new development. He opened his first restaurant of the same name in 2018 at Stone Ridge Shopping Center.

However, several neighbors raised concerns about the project, including Joe Jurewicz, who warned it would add to traffic at the intersection of Dodge Avenue and West Arrowhead, which he called "terrifying" and "a blind corner." He also questioned how truck deliveries of supplies would be made to the restaurant from its access off Dodge.

"I'm not against a commercial development here. I'm certainly not against the site plan. What I am concerned about is the restaurant use," he said.

Ann Thoreson, another neighbor, also objected.

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Jersey Mike's development.jpg
Gary Meader / Duluth News Tribune

"It's beyond me why somebody would come into our neighborhood and rip down a house and then put up a development on a site next to houses," she said. "I mean there are no buffers here. None."

Alex Bushey, the would-be developer of the property, said that given the relatively modest size of the proposed restaurant, large semi trucks likely would not be needed to deliver supplies, and whatever vehicles that are used for deliveries probably could be accommodated in an on-site parking lot. He also said the proposed landscaping was consistent with city standards.

But Commissioner Andrea Wedul questioned whether proposed landscaping for the development would provide adequate screening from neighboring residential properties.

"I think we should have sensitivity to the fact that people do live there," she said.

City Planner John Kelley said the mixed-use zoning of the property, adopted in 2018, allows for commercial development of the type proposed, but a restaurant use of the building would require a special-use permit, which he recommended the commissioners approve.

Yet just one commissioner, Sarah Wisdorf, voted against a motion to deny the needed permit.

Adam Fulton, deputy director of Duluth's planning and economic development department, said, "It was staff's position that this was a good, small-scale economic development project in this neighborhood. It fit the context, generating relatively low traffic, and it was really appropriate for something right along Arrowhead Road, consistent with the zoning. So, I was surprised by the planning commission's decision."

Fulton said the developer could file an appeal to the Duluth City Council but would need to do so within 10 days of the planning commission decision.

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The gradual incursion of commercial business into what had been a residential neighborhood has been controversial and stirred heated debate in 2018 .

"Kenwood has been an area that has been sensitive for the neighborhood. And we are attuned to that sensitivity. But on the other hand, this has been identified in the comprehensive plan as a core investment area. So, it has been the adopted policy and direction of the city to encourage new economic development opportunities in this area," Fulton said.

The developer did not respond to the News Tribune's calls regarding the project Thursday.

But Schoonover said he hopes the developer does challenge the decision.

Schoonover said believes commercial development of the property would enable Duluth to put the site to its highest and best practical use, "especially considering across the street there's a major strip center with major traffic," pointing to the Kenwood Shopping Center on the south side of Arrowhead.

Schoonover said he's been working with his development partner to put together a deal for the past five months and was disappointed by the planning commission decision.

"I have thousands of dollars invested into attorney fees and architect fees. And the developer has thousands of dollars invested. So, we're just sort of at an impasse about whether the developer should try to go to the City Council and get them to overturn it," he said.

SEE ALSO:
A controversial proposal to rezone a portion of Kenwood, allowing for higher-density residential development in the neighborhood, will land in front of the Duluth City Council Monday. And if 2nd District Councilor Joel Sipress has his way, the bo...

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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