Can zoning fix Duluth’s student-rental conundrum?

Can zoning fix Duluth’s student-rental conundrum? | Duluth News Tribune | Duluth, Minnesota.

Up to eight areas near Duluth’s colleges could be turned into student neighborhoods in proposed changes to the city zoning code.

The eight designated areas — including spots near the Mount Royal and Kenwood shopping centers and in the East Hillside and Endion neighborhoods — would allow construction of apartment buildings up to four stories high targeting University of Minnesota Duluth and the College of St. Scholastica students. The apartments could include 20 units and must have

80 percent student occupancy.

The areas also could be zoned to bring more retail stores and restaurants into the student communities.

The idea is to gradually shift students from the wider university neighborhoods into designated student areas.

“We want to preserve the single-family neighborhoods around the universities, and we want choices for students on where to live and amenities in those housing developments,” said Cindy Petkac, city land use supervisor.

A group assigned to determine possible student districts will meet today and in November and December to discuss these proposals. More details will be presented to the public in late December or early January, Petkac said. The City Council could see final proposals next spring or summer.

City Councilor Jim Stauber said four districts — including the areas near Campus Park and Boulder Ridge student housing complexes — is a more reasonable number.

“The residents probably don’t know that this is going on or know what it would mean,” Stauber said. “There is a huge amount of passion around the campus, and we don’t all agree. And it’s important that those decisions are made early.”

Fellow City Councilor Todd Fedora supports these proposed student neighborhoods, saying they could become “mini-Dinkytowns,” a reference to the student communities near the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.

“There is a dynamic that could occur,” said Fedora, who represents an area near UMD. “One, you could walk to campus. Two, you are close to grocery stores, restaurants, convenience stores, car-repair shops. There are a multitude of different nuances that could come into play should we develop the different student housing districts.”

In the middle of the proposed student district near the Mount Royal shopping area lives 84-year-old widower Xavier Mattei. About 45 years ago, he and his wife, Janet, moved to 1517 Waverly Ave. to raise their three children in a quiet family neighborhood. Today, his big white house on a corner lot is surrounded by college students.

“We had a beautiful neighborhood before with families, but now I’m all alone here,” said Mattei, a retired teacher in the Duluth school district. “If you have apartment buildings, you are going to have more cars, more students, more traffic, and the neighborhood will not be the same anymore. So I’m against it.”

Steve Schadewald, a manager at Mount Royal Fine Foods, said if the proposed student apartments displace families, it could hurt revenue at the grocery near UMD because families spend nearly five times more on food per week than students.

“It all depends on where the housing is going to go,” Schadewald said. “If it’s going to go along Woodland Avenue across from the campus, a lot of that housing is already student housing. It’s just older homes that have become rentals, so that wouldn’t be that big of a deal. But if it moves into more [single-family] neighborhoods that have been in place and are still in place, then it’s a different factor. You are displacing families.”

Petkac said the city is “sensitive” to the apprehension of residents in those areas.

“We have heard from residents in the Mount Royal and the Woodland school areas who are concerned about what that means to them and the impacts to them if there would be student housing right there,” she said.

Fedora said secondary benefits of the student districts could include less pressure to convert residential homes to rentals, reduced traffic with off-street parking and increased business activity in those areas.

“You’ve got pockets of mixed-use area already, and it makes an incredible amount of sense to allow these districts to pop up,” he said. “One is the Mount Royal area and the other, naturally, is Kenwood.”

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