Don’t let Duluth become another ‘nanny state’The City Council did the right thing in unanimously adopting the Unified Development Chapter, which replaces a woefully outdated zoning code. It will guide development in the city for years to come.
By: Virgil Swing, Budgeteer News
The first column I wrote for the Budgeteer News (nearly two-and-a-half years ago) lamented the sad state of Duluth’s streets and suggested city officials take the problem seriously and speed up improvements on them. I was far from alone in this view, of course, as others at public meetings, in letters to the editor, on radio talk shows and in other forums said the same thing.
Looking back on this as we near the end of the Summer of the Orange Barrel, I have one question: What were we thinking? Who knew the city (joined by the county and state) would try fixing all the streets at once? Be careful of what you wish for.
Meanwhile, some thoughts on other things affecting Duluth as we dodge the dastardly detours:
The City Council did the right thing in unanimously adopting the Unified Development Chapter, which replaces a woefully outdated zoning code. It will guide development in the city for years to come.
I served on a committee of about 26 people that drafted a general development plan (after meeting for about 16 months with the help of a consultant). It has been frustrating to wait four-plus years as the city and another consultant wrote specific rules to flesh out that broader comprehensive plan.
This chapter isn’t perfect, and the city will need to keep a planning commission — and perhaps a board of zoning appeals — to respond to citizen requests which vary from the new rules. And a bigger-picture update may also be needed from time to time. However, this planning reform was long overdue.
I respect Jeff Jackson, who spoke against approval before the council vote — I served on the Planning Commission and appeals board with him and know he has the city’s best interests at heart — but the city can never produce a perfect planning document. Councilors wisely accepted this fact and noted the ability to change it as needed,
Less-impressive efforts came recently as some councilors seemed determined to micro-manage life here, turning the city into what I call a “nanny state.”
Councilor Sharla Gardner was the main backer of an ordinance (approved Aug. 16) that increases the required buffer between so-called adult entertainment businesses and schools, parks, churches, residential zone or public skyways from 600 feet to 2,000 feet.
Given the extreme reluctance of most elected officials to do anything that seems to endorse pornography, it’s not too surprising she managed to bring all other councilors along — but it is still disappointing to see them putting zoning controls on legal businesses that can’t be shown to harm city residents.
This law will accomplish nothing positive.
Worse yet, it could put the city in court some day. Federal courts have upheld restrictions on adult-entertainment businesses, but in a city with lots of schools, churches, parks and residential zones, a 2,000-foot buffer might go too far and lose in a First Amendment challenge.
The second “nanny state” effort seeks to strengthen an existing law by banning smoking in parks and playgrounds within 100 feet of any youth participating in a city-sponsored, -organized or -scheduled activity.
Smoking is dumb. Every non-smoker agrees, and about 90 percent of smokers do as well.
Efforts in recent years to disallow indoor smoking were wise since the dangers of second-hand smoke are proven. But once smokers are outside, the effects of smoke are less likely to harm anyone. Is 100 feet really a danger zone? Let’s prove it before adopting a ban.
I was a smoker for about six months when I was 13 years old. I wish I could say thoughtful analysis of possible health problems — known even in those days before the surgeon general said so — led me to quit. Actually, it was the cost that made me a non-smoker.
I’ve enjoyed improved indoor air quality in recent years as smokers were gradually pushed outside, but let’s limit how far we pursue them.
This unnecessary ordinance has not been approved yet, but that could happen at tomorrow’s council meeting.
I hope a few libertarians attend to say enough is enough.
Budgeteer opinion columnist Virgil Swing can be reached at email@example.com.