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Neighbors oppose student housing

While the concept of student housing got a favorable response, the proposed location got failing grades from both neighbors and the Duluth Planning Commission Wednesday evening.

While the concept of student housing got a favorable response, the proposed location got failing grades from both neighbors and the Duluth Planning Commission Wednesday evening.
Developer Mark Lambert wants to build up to 90 townhouse units that could house up to 350 college students on vacant land off Kenwood Avenue near Chester Park.
It's a site with a past that includes court cases, petitions and other planned projects. It has an existing permit for up to 159 apartments. As part of that agreement, landowner George Hovland had dedicated about 20 acres to Chester Park.
During a lengthy meetingt, the commission heard from many residents who oppose the project for similar reasons. They cited noise, traffic, appearance and an adverse impact on the park and their neighborhoods.
Lambert currently owns Campus Park Townhomes and Villas on Rice Lake Road. The proposed development near Chester Park would be a similar operation.
The units are rented on a 10-month basis and closed two months for maintenance.
"After three years of operation we've had minimum problems," he said. We offer "tough management. I have very tough leases."
"It's a needed product ... where are the students who are coming going to go?" he asked, pointing out the enrollment growth at UMD. "I tried to find a site that is as least offensive to as many people as possible. This is student housing, people are going to oppose it."
"I'm here to support student housing," said Joe Michela, director of auxiliary services at UMD. "I would be here for the next developer."
In citing the need, Lambert had said he expects enrollment at UMD to hit 8,700 by 2003. But Michela called that figure conservative, and said it will go up to 9,000.
He also explained that additional on-campus housing is not a viable option.
"Seven generic barracks jackknifed into a hilly wooded site does little to improve our neighborhood," said Daniel Murphy of Skywood Lane. He had collected signatures from all the residents on his street on a petition against the project.
Several residents voiced fears about the impact 350 college students would have on the park, which borders the apartment site.
Park manager Thom Storm said that about 80 percent of all vandalism that occurs in Chester Park is done by college students. He said if the project proceeds, the vandalism will increase and the peaceful nature of the area will be compromised.
Taking issue with some of the comments, Lambert said, "I'm not asking for student dormitories, I'm asking for townhomes. I'm not trying to be anything less than a good neighbor."
He also offered to put a up a 6-foot fence around the property as a condition to the permit.
Several of the commissioners agreed that it was a good proposal, "in an awful spot." Commissioner Jeff Jackson said he could support it if it was closer to the original plan.
However, Commissioner Tom Shefchik said the objections were mostly NIMBY (not in my backyard) reasons and preferred to table action unless opponents came up with more solid evidence.
In the end, he cast the only "no" vote against the motion to deny a special use permit.
The request is expected to go to the City Council July 10, and the opposing neighbors are expected to be there.

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