Two Harbors council nixes proposed townhomes

Two Harbors Lighthouse Museum is seen
Now canceled by the City Council, developer proposed building a couple dozen townhomes on land along Lighthouse Point Road and near the city’s historic lighthouse in Two Harbors, Minn.
Derek Montgomery for MPR News

The Two Harbors City Council has rejected a concept plan to build high-end townhomes on Lighthouse Point along Lake Superior near the North Shore city’s waterfront.

The council voted 4-1 Monday evening against moving forward with the controversial proposal, which has riled up residents of this small town and brought back memories of a fight 20 years ago over a similar development near the historic lighthouse.

Developers had proposed building two dozen townhomes, along with a commercial building — likely a coffee shop, bar or restaurant — on about five acres of former railroad land, next to the iconic lighthouse on a rocky point that juts out into Agate Bay.

Vision Board image
Vision Board image of structures proposed around Two Harbors Lighthouse
Courtesy of Ted Stocke

Several of the council members struggled with a lack of detail in the proposal. It called for two rows of townhomes, some single-story, some three-story. Artist renderings suggest a modern design, but the proposal didn’t include specific drawings or floor plans.

“What I feel like I’ve got in front of me is a series of pictures, and a one-and-a-half page narrative on the development. Does that constitute a plan?” asked council member Uriah Hefter.

Justin Otsea, a planner for the Arrowhead Regional Development Commission, told Hefter it met the city’s requirements under its zoning code for a concept plan.

“It may not be as complete as desired,” Otsea said. “That’s certainly something for council to decide.”

Two Harbors Lighthouse Museum is seen
Land along Lighthouse Point Road and near the historic lighthouse (top center) where developers wanted to build several townhouses in Two Harbors, Minn.
Derek Montgomery for MPR News

‘Curve-balled’

Duluth-based developer Ted Stocke, part of a team working to build the townhomes on Lighthouse Point, said he was “curve-balled” by the council’s decision. He said he planned to submit more details in the next approval stage when he presented preliminary plans to the city.

“They literally were just concepts,” Stocke said. “It was like, ‘hey, this is what I’m thinking.’ I wish they would have given me some time, I certainly would have gone ahead and had some plans drawn up. But I wanted to make sure we were going down the right path.”

The investor group, which also includes two partners from Two Harbors, had an initial discussion after the council decision, but Stocke said, “We’re not exactly sure what we’re going to do.”

Stocke said some residents who commented on the proposal seemed to want a more commercial development, possibly a “mini-Canal Park,” along the lines of the tourist district in Duluth along Lake Superior.

Others have expressed a desire for the city to purchase the land and preserve it as open space, to add to adjacent parkland on Lighthouse Point. “But it’s been for sale for 15 years or more, and the city didn’t buy it,” Stocke said.

A general view from the Lighthouse
From the top of the historic Two Harbors Lighthouse, you can see the area of proposed land for two dozen townhomes.
Derek Montgomery for MPR News

‘A great relief’

The developers had sought a special allowance to build more units than the underlying zoning allows, and for tax increment financing to use the additional property tax revenue generated by the project to pay for roads and other infrastructure. Those proposals further raised the ire of locals who opposed the project.

“It was a great relief,” said Two Harbors resident Judy Olson. “We’re aware that we need to remain diligent. After all, this is a private piece of property. It could be developed within our zoning laws.”

Todd Ronning, a local artist who was also involved in the fight over proposed development on Lighthouse Point two decades ago, urged the Two Harbors city council to find another path.

“There’s precedence for the city purchasing the property,” Ronning said. “There’s precedence for rejecting high-density development for the parcel, even precedence for accepting a small-scale, height-sensitive, density-sensitive project.”

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