Neighbors' petition puts Duluth Heights hotel project on hold

The Duluth Planning Commission will consider whether the project should undergo further environmental review.

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Gary Meader / Duluth News Tribune

DULUTH — A petition signed by 196 people will prompt the planning commission to take another look at controversial plans to build a hotel at the corner of Sundby Road and Page Street.

The petition calls for the would-be developer of the property to complete an environmental assessment worksheet (EAW) to ensure the project will not cause harm to its surroundings, including Miller Creek, a designated trout stream.

Neighbors have raised concerns about the proposed four-story, 110-room hotel and the impact it will have on their rural residential community. But those concerns were not sufficient to convince the planning commission to withhold support for the project. An appeal to the Duluth City Council also proved unsuccessful.

But opponents of the development have mounted yet another effort to stop the hotel by petitioning Minnesota's Environmental Quality Board (EQB) to request an EAW.

The petition will result in a temporary pause of any site work until the planning commission can consider whether an EAW is justified, said Adam Fulton, deputy director of Duluth's planning and economic development division. On Tuesday evening, he said staff would visit the property to ensure all development activity has been placed on hold


Becca Mulenburg, a neighborhood resident who has been a vocal critic of the project, said the EQB notified the city of the petition for an EAW on Friday, March 10, yet work was allowed to continue on the site until Tuesday, March 14, as she "raised all the alarm bells that I could."

Even after the petition for an EAW was submitted to the EQB, it continued to garner support, with more than 250 signatories now. That's more than double the EQB's required minimum threshold for review of 100 signatories.

"I really hope that the commission reads the petition, because it raises a lot of environmental concerns. And there are enough reasons, I believe, that this project should be stopped," Mulenberg said. "It kind of boils down to the effect it would have on water quality and the wetlands being able to filter and buffer the water to protect Miller Creek."

Members of the local W.J. McCabe Chapter of the Izaak Walton League have voiced environmental concerns about runoff from the proposed development, as well.

However, David Rolf of Northland Consulting Engineers assured planning commission members that a pair of retention ponds incorporated into the project design will capture runoff from the property, allowing sediments to settle out and holding it back until it can filter back into the groundwater system.

After the EQB determined the local petition was valid and notified Duluth city officials, Fulton told planning commission members, "The next step is for staff to do some analysis and bring a recommendation back to the commission at your April meeting as to whether to order an EAW or to find that an EAW is not required. We just received it (the petition) and we are still in the process of evaluating it at this time."

The property is owned by Kinseth Hospitality Cos. of Coralville, Iowa, which operates more than 100 hotels across the nation, including one in Duluth, doing business as Tru By Hilton. The proposed new hotel would operate under the Townplace Suites by Marriott banner, offering extended-stay accommodations.

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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