Neighbors Oppose Duplex in Historic District

Plan Commission tables decision on permit

After holding a public hearing during which opponents harshly criticized a couple’s plans to convert a house in the Louisiana Street/7th Avenue Historic District into a two-unit dwelling, the Sturgeon Bay Plan Commission agreed March 15 to table action on the conditional-use permit until its meeting next month.

Jurgita and David Kana, who, in 2021, bought the single-family dwelling at 114 N. 7th Ave. – the former site of a bed-and-breakfast – originally sought a planned unit development to convert the house into a four-unit apartment building where J-1 visa student workers and others who work in Door County year-round could stay.

But the couple withdrew those plans prior to a public hearing the commission had scheduled in January and appeared March 15 instead for a public hearing on the latest proposal.

The four-unit apartment building drew opposition from several neighbors and others who were against altering a building deemed “pivotal” in the historic area, and that opposition was also present for the proposed two-unit dwelling, which they called a “fourplex in disguise,” among other things.

Jurgita and David Kana appear March 15 before Sturgeon Bay’s Plan Commission to seek approval to convert their single-family dwelling at 114 N. 7th Ave. in Sturgeon Bay into a two-family dwelling. Photo by Kevin Boneske.

The property has 27,009 square feet with a house of about 5,000 square feet. It is currently zoned R-2 (Single-Family Residential), for which a two-family dwelling requires a conditional-use permit. 

Mayor David Ward, who chairs the commission, suggested tabling the matter to allow time for the community development department to put together a list of conditions to consider for the project. 

“I don’t want to do that on the floor on the fly,” he said, “because the next morning you wake up and think, ‘Gee, what did we do?’”

Ward said “there’s no perfect outcome” as to what should be done with the building, which has already been altered.

“Let’s see if we can’t find a set of conditions that help,” he said. “Now, we probably can’t bring the historic window back.”

Community development director Marty Olejniczak said that although Louisiana Street/7th Avenue has a historic district designation, there are no restrictions on altering the buildings in it, similar to what currently exist in the preservation district for 3rd Avenue.

Jurgita Kana said the couple’s plans for the house – which the two of them would still live in, with another family able to use the space – call for leaving the exterior mostly the way it is now.

“We don’t want to change [the exterior] too much, but we did want to remove a couple of windows,” she said.

David Kana said the couple has no intention of using the building as a bed-and-breakfast.

Those speaking in opposition to converting the house into a duplex included Julie Hein, who lives on Quincy Street and characterized the Louisiana Street/7th Avenue Historic District, which is listed in the National and State Register of Historic Places, as a “significant historic site.”

Hein urged the commission to “prevent further damage to the city’s historic district and its surrounding neighbors, all who have valid concern over diminished and impaired property values, further architectural and landscape changes, further zoning infringements – given the history of noncompliance that we’re talking about for the last two years.”

“Say no to this petition,” she said. “Please do not put this request for a self-serving profit center – one home in a vibrant historic neighborhood – above all else or all others, especially not above those who also reside here.”

Julie Hein, who lives on Quincy Street in Sturgeon Bay, speaks March 15 before the city’s Plan Commission in opposition to Jurgita and David Kana seeking a permit to convert the home they own in the Louisiana Street/7th Avenue Historic District into a two-family home. Photo by Kevin Boneske.

Hein said the plans submitted by the Kanas to convert the house into a two-unit dwelling are such that the building could easily be divided by blocking or locking doors for use as four units.

“The only way to ensure that this nationally recognized historic area and all single-family–zoned neighborhoods in the city remain neighborhoods, is to oppose this conditional-use permit that is a fourplex in disguise,” she said.

D.J. Jeanquart, who lives in a historic home on the other side of Kentucky Street from the house that the Kanas purchased, also spoke in opposition to granting the conditional-use permit. He said people in the neighborhood chose to purchase homes in the historic district with the understanding that it was a neighborhood of single-family homes.

“Is the bastardization of one pivotally historic home turned into a duplex and/or four makeshift, at best, apartments the solution?” he asked.

During the commission’s discussion, District 2 alderman Dennis Statz said he had “considerable angst” about the permit application.

“Under the conditions that exist, there really is no control over the property itself in terms of the exterior,” he said. “If it had been designated by the Plan Commission as a preservation district, which downtown is, when they would get a building permit, they would have to submit plans, and it would be reviewed.”

Statz suggested having that requirement also apply to the Louisiana Street/7th Avenue Historic District.

“A preservation district does not have to be exactly the historic district, just to clarify that,” he said. “Under the current conditions, though, they can remove windows and put in a patio door. It really bothers me, to put it kindly.”

District 7 alderwoman Kirsten Reeths, who lives in the neighborhood and represents the area where the proposed two-unit dwelling is located, said the Kanas have made the property look better since they purchased it in 2021.

“They came in, raked up the leaves, they trimmed up the pine trees, [and] it does look a lot better than what it did – absolutely,” she said.

As a single-family home, Reeths said the Kanas have the right to make changes to it.

“It’s all about personal opinion, and yes, a majority [of people] who are in this room are old school and like that historical look, as myself, but a younger person, a younger couple, might not like that,” she said.