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Gordon Heights residents fight zoning change

Planned as a single-family residential area, people are worried the character of their neighborhood will change if a 4-acre commercial zone is approved.

Government Center in Superior
Government Center, Superior, Wisconsin.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
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SUPERIOR — Douglas County’s zoning committee is recommending a zoning change that would create a 4-acre commercial zone in Gordon Heights, a residential neighborhood developed in the 1970s in Gordon.

The committee approved the zoning change Wednesday, Aug. 10.

However, getting approval from the county board may require more than a simple majority. Residents of the area have retained an attorney and plan to submit a protest to the county objecting to the zoning change the committee previously denied.

Brian Finstad said 100% of the adjoining property owners have signed the petition.

In May, after hearing adjacent property owners concerns about changing the character of their residential neighborhood, the committee voted to deny the zoning change requested by Quinn Musch of Preferred Living LLC.

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Musch plans to build a mini storage building on the site.

“It was relieving to see the committee vote unanimously to deny the petition,” neighboring property owner Jenny Huesby said Wednesday. She's spoken out against the zoning change since the issue came before the committee in May. “We thought the committee’s denial (in May) was the end of it, so we didn’t believe attending the June 16 county board meeting was necessary.”

Wednesday, the Huesby family joined neighbors to plead their case before the zoning committee for the third time.

At the June 16 county board meeting, the board rejected the recommendation to deny the zoning change and sent the matter back to committee to craft the amendment to the zoning ordinance and come back with a recommendation.

The committee withheld a decision for one month in July.

“Our home is more than a piece of property,” said Anja Huesby, Jenny’s daughter. "It is our sanctuary where nature creates a buffer against the hectic world around us. It is the reason my grandparents and others in our neighborhood chose to settle down in the middle of these beloved woods.”

Building a storage unit on Gordon Heights Circle, the road that loops through the neighborhood, would disturb that with street lights polluting the night sky and shining through the trees, especially in winter when foliage thins, Anja said.

But it isn’t just the present plans for the property that has neighbors concerned. It’s the history of zoning changes, and the future of the neighborhood that people are concerned about.

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In the 1970s, when Finstad’s father planned the Gordon Heights neighborhood, the vision was for quiet, wooded, single-family residential building sites, Finstad wrote in an email to the committee in May. In the 1990s, a zoning change was made to accommodate three duplexes, which dismayed neighbors at the time.

Katy Metcalfe, who lives closest to the site where the zoning change is being proposed, has questioned what additional commercial ventures could take place in her neighborhood — a motel, a bar, a restaurant.

With pressures for campgrounds in Gordon, Finstad wondered if that would be next.

Finstad said Wednesday that there was one aspect of the process that did work.

“The committee took the town’s position to be advisory and considered that along with the overwhelming public testimony, and came to its own recommendation on the matter,” Finstad said of the committee’s May decision to deny the zoning change. “The committee did it right.”

The Gordon Town Board voted in favor of the zoning change in May. Several residents in Gordon Heights Circle said they were unaware of the meeting or they would have attended.

“My parents created Gordon Heights with a certain vision,” Finstad said. “Although Gordon as a whole may not have a plan, Gordon Heights from its creation was a planned residential development, ample lots of wooded character on the ridge overlooking the St. Croix River.”

The county board will consider the zoning change when it meets at 6 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 18 in the board room of the Government Center.

Shelley Nelson is a reporter with the Duluth Media Group since 1997, and has covered Superior and Douglas County communities and government for the Duluth News Tribune from 1999 to 2006, and the Superior Telegram since 2006. Contact her at 715-395-5022 or snelson@superiortelegram.com.
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