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Potential Hermantown apartment rezoning approved

The Hermantown City Council unanimously approved, with one councilor abstaining, the rezoning of a 27-acre plat where a new apartment complex could be developed.

A small pond near the start of a trail.
A small pond near the start of Boulder Trail near Hermantown Road in Hermantown.
Teri Cadeau / File / Duluth News Tribune
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HERMANTOWN — The Hermantown City Council approved the rezoning of a 27-acre plat on the former Engwalls site at the regular meeting Monday evening. The ordinance was approved by all except Councilor John Geissler who abstained from voting due to his employer having contracts with P&R Properties, the developer seeking to build the potentially 147-unit complex.

The site between Hermantown, Anderson and Haines roads is currently home to a landscaping contracting company, but formerly housed Engwalls florists for over 100 years.

Hermantown possible apartment complex development site
The 27-acre plat where a new apartment complex could be developed in Hermantown.
Screenshot / Hermatown Planning and Zoning Commission

The Hermantown Planning and Zoning Commission voted at a meeting in August to not recommend the change of the plat's zoning to commercial from its current residential. The developer, P&R Properties, sought the change as the residential, or R3, zoning only allowed developments to reach 35 feet tall. The complex the company is seeking to build would be closer to 65 feet. P&R recently developed the 147-unit Aery apartment complex at the corner of Ugstad Road and Highway 53.

A request to rezone a 27-acre plat being considered for development by P&R Properties was not recommended by Hermantown's Planning and Zoning Commission, but will go on to the city council for review.

This was the second reading of the ordinance for this rezoning and with it came several comments from members of the community surrounding the plat. Concerns ranged from worries about traffic flow in the neighborhood due to the potential increase in residents and vehicles, to apprehension that the zoning change could allow other commercial businesses to move in if the P&R project didn't go forward.

"What would happen if P&R walked away?" asked resident Dave Miller, who lives near the potential site. "We need zoning changes that keep residential with residential and commercial with commercial. I don't think this is what the community wants."

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There were also several speakers at the meeting in support of the project. Dante Tomassoni, the COO of development with P&R and member of the Hermantown Planning Commission (who abstained from voting on the project when it was brought before the commission last month) answered concerns about P&R backing away from the project.

"If the project didn't happen, it wouldn't open up Pandora's box," Tomassoni said. "There are still requirements that any commercial project would have to meet in order to build on that land. It's a slippery slope argument that's not applicable. And we're very much invested in making this project happen."

Tomassoni also stated that the project could also potentially bring better access to the new Boulder Trail start near the plat by providing more parking spaces around the area, though mentioned that it wasn't finalized.

Engwalls property owner Rod Saline addressed concerns about traffic to and from the site, stating that his business would see upward of 100-275 cars per day, albeit seasonally, due to the former corn maze and gardening business.

"Hermantown is important to me. I've been here 48 years," Saline said. I'm proud to be part of the community and Engwalls. I would not be selling this property to a project that I thought would not benefit Hermantown."

Teri Cadeau is a general assignment and neighborhood reporter for the Duluth News Tribune. Originally from the Iron Range, Cadeau has worked for several community newspapers in the Duluth area for eight years including: The Duluth Budgeteer News, Western Weekly, Weekly Observer, Lake County News-Chronicle and occasionally, the Cloquet Pine Journal. When not working, she's an avid reader and crafter.
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