Proposed Duluth hotel stirs controversy
A petition seeks to stop or slow a development that critics fear will endanger a local trout stream.
DULUTH — Concerned neighbors have not given up their fight to stop or at least reshape plans for a new four-story, 110-room hotel development proposed just east of Kohl’s at the corner of Sundby Road and Page Street.
Their latest strategy, after failing to convince the local planning commission and City Council to reject the project, is to seek a more thorough review of its potential impacts via an Environmental Assessment Worksheet, often referred to as an EAW for short.
Opponents of the project, largely concerned about the negative effects it could have on neighboring Miller Creek, a designated trout stream, launched a website, imagine-dn.org, last week and are asking others concerned about the development to sign a petition requesting that an EAW be required before work on the new hotel may begin.
The petition will need to be signed by at least 100 Minnesota residents before it will be considered by state authorities, and organizer Jill Crawford-Nichols, said the group is already about halfway to its goal.
Hotel opponents gathered more than 100 signatures on a previous petition presented to city officials, in a door-to-door campaign, but Crawford-Nichols said that’s harder to execute in winter, prompting the decision to opt for an online drive.
She described feeling a sense of urgency, not knowing the developer’s exact timeline or how long it may take to successfully seek an EAW.
The local W.J. McCabe Chapter of the Izaak Walton League of America has voiced its concerns about the project, as well.
Chapter President Julie O’Leary warned that the development would boost the amount of impervious surface, creating additional challenges for Miller Creek.
“Stormwater is already a significant problem in this area, as was apparent in June 2012 when Duluth received nearly 8 inches of rain over two days, causing extensive flooding and damage to infrastructure down the hill in the streams running through Duluth,” she wrote.
But David Rolf of Northland Consulting Engineers maintains that a pair of stormwater retention ponds that are part of the hotel property’s design should be sufficient to capture runoff, and allow it to filter slowly into the groundwater.
It’s particularly disturbing when we see public dollars being invested in restoration and remediation projects at one end of the watershed and a ‘business-as-usual’ approach to development activities at the other end, with no attempt to ensure they are consistent with the city’s environmental priorities and prior investments.
However, Crawford-Nichols remains unconvinced the loss of wetlands on the site and the increased amount of impervious surface will not cause additional harm to Miller Creek, which has already been identified as an “impaired waterway.”
O’Leary considers it ironic that the city is poised to allow more intensive commercial development in an area it has already identified as vulnerable and in need of environmental mitigation.
“It’s particularly disturbing when we see public dollars being invested in restoration and remediation projects at one end of the watershed and a ‘business-as-usual’ approach to development activities at the other end, with no attempt to ensure they are consistent with the city’s environmental priorities and prior investments,” she wrote.
Crawford-Nichols agreed, saying: "With the city and the county and all the different organizations supposedly dedicated to having clean water and wetland protection and such like that, it seems like this is dramatically out of balance between what they say and what they do.”
The developer, Kinseth Hospitality Cos. of Coralville, Iowa, owns and operates more than 100 hotels across the country already, including one in Duluth, operating under the Tru By Hilton flag. The company’s proposed second Duluth property would do business under the Townplace Suites by Marriott name. Ben Kinseth, director of operations for the hotelier, said it will offer extended-stay accommodations with rooms featuring amenities such as kitchenettes.
Crawford-Nichols fears that allowing the proposed hotel to move forward could set the stage for further development, as Kinseth has bought up a considerable quantity of land along Sundby.
“The impact could really be expansive. It’s not just about one single hotel,” she said, warning that the hotel could serve as a dangerous precedent.