City councilor’s view: Updating zoning code vital to Duluth‚Äôs future

For years, over starts and stops, the city of Duluth has been trying to complete a new Comprehensive Plan and the zoning code that follows it.
By: Tony Cuneo, Duluth News Tribune

I know; you hear “zoning code” and you wonder if a more boring article could possibly be written. So let me rephrase. The city of Duluth has been trying to complete a new comprehensive plan and to rewrite the rules that protect parkland and green space, that help to streamline the building permit and planning offices, and that shape the very feel of our city. Hopefully that sounds a bit more interesting.

As I see it, the development of our new zoning code is not only interesting but crucial to the success of this city.

The completion of step 1 was the adoption of the Comprehensive Plan by the City Council in 2006. With the participation of thousands of Duluth citizens, the Comprehensive Plan provides a vision for land use throughout the city. The level of participation was a testament to the engaged nature of our citizenry.

But the effort isn’t over.

In December 2008, the city of Duluth hired Clarion Associates to partner with the Planning Division. Together they are working to implement the Comprehensive Plan with a new detailed zoning and development code. The Comprehensive Plan provides a great foundation for this work, and there is ample reason to look forward to the final product.

If you are, as I am, someone who believes that new projects and development are important to this city, you will be pleased to know that within the early drafts of this zoning code are ideas for a streamlined system of navigating a project through City Hall.

But there is a more important aspect to this work, and it involves citizen participation.

Regardless of the progress the mayor has made toward improving functions at City Hall, there is no changing the fact that our current zoning code was adopted in the 1950s. Developers, therefore, need to decide whether to bring a project forward that is consistent with our current code or a project that is consistent with the current vision Duluthians hold for this city. Choose the former and expect outcry from the residents of Duluth; choose the latter and expect trouble meshing your vision with our current law.

Remember, our current code was written almost six decades ago. Outcry from residents isn’t necessarily an anti-business ethic, as claims often suggest. There’s a very real chance the project, if it is following all of our current laws, simply doesn’t match the vision most of us have for our city.

Completion of the Comprehensive Plan in 2006 was a very necessary step. The plan does a great job of laying out broad ideas. But there are details to be worked out — with your participation.

Over the past months there have been a number of community meetings across the city. Residents have been introduced to the process and provided initial feedback on the proposed outline for the new code.

This is all an effort to put together a zoning code that accurately reflects the vision of the people of this city.

As a city councilor, I will be asked to adopt our new zoning code. I look forward to that vote for all the reasons laid out above, but I am hopeful that the code delivered to the council desk is as rich with resident participation as possible.

Please consider this an invitation to be a part of the process.

Tony Cuneo is an At Large member of the Duluth City Council.

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