Keep the plan alive

The proposed sale of city land on Park Point got me thinking. I went on a quest for very specific words. Finally, after weeks of media coverage in the papers, on TV, and in rant-filled online commentary, I saw the first mention of my target topic: the Duluth Comprehensive Plan.

Now, you may yawn so hard your jaws crack when I mention the Comprehensive Plan (CP). Not me, and here’s why: I think our CP will create a city that’s friendly to development while preserving its unique natural character. I believe this because the last formally adopted Comprehensive Plan in this town was written in 1927. That means that for over 60 years, we’ve been winging it. You should care because, now, we have a common vision. And with any luck, the town can shed its reputation for being anti-development.

Back in June of 2006, the City Council unanimously approved the Duluth Comprehensive Plan. A broad spectrum of stakeholders in the city’s future spent a year working on the plan, which is a vision for the preferred use of land in Duluth at a point 20 years in the future. Duluth’s city website gave me information on the topic, including an interactive map. I could see how land is used now, how it is currently zoned, and how the CP proposes to use land in the future. It only took five minutes to find large areas of the city with conflicts between proposed land use and zoning. I’m not just talking about tree-hugging. There’s undeveloped land in town that’s proposed for commercial use that has zoning out of whack, too.

I worried when the press barely mentioned the CP, so I cast a net of emails. I was pleased to hear from Mayor Ness, who was kind enough to invite me to City Hall. I learned that any land use ideas should begin with the CP as a launching pad and proceed through the Planning Commission and ultimately to the City Council. I suggested that the zoning code conflicted with the CP and asked if there was a plan to align the two. He said the city should have started changing the zoning code the day after the CP was approved. Both the Mayor, and later City Councilor Roger Reinert, said the city is searching for a consultant that will help the city rewrite the zoning code during the next 18 months to make it align with the CP. Not only to align it, but to fundamentally change zoning into a “unified” or “form based” code. It should become a simpler, one-stop shopping ordinance. Councilor Reinert said that, until that time, each individual land use action, like the Park Point land sale, will have to be carefully considered.

The Comprehensive Plan figured prominently in the Park Point land sale, long after I started researching this column. What you should be pleased about is that the Planning Commission upheld the position of the Plan, over the desires of the City to sell land. I hope the Planning Commission shows as much resolve when it’s time to green light a business development in an undeveloped area that the CP designated for industry.

Our elected officials are well aware of our own Comprehensive Plan. The town has a vision that can satisfy business and preservation simultaneously. It won’t be easy. The Mayor commented that the Comprehensive Plan is a living and breathing document. In a time of budget troubles and major city reorganization, I hope we have enough discipline and conviction to keep the plan alive.

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About Eric Chandler

Husband. Father. Pilot. Cross Country Skier. Writer. Author of Outside Duluth and Down In It.
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