New developments offer promise, but city must strive for excellenceI long have advocated for a university district. And now, with the old Woodland school site set to become the cornerstone of Bluestone Commons, Duluth stands to see its first,
By: Doug Pazienza, Duluth News Tribune
I long have advocated for a university district. And now, with the old Woodland school site set to become the cornerstone of Bluestone Commons, Duluth stands to see its first,
purpose-built, mixed residential and commercial development for the student community.
The developer, Mark Lambert, brought us Boulder Ridge and Campus Park, two student apartment complexes I criticized for being isolated, cheaply constructed, badly designed and poorly planned. Unlike those, Bluestone Commons looks sophisticated, urbane and contemporary. There was intensive public scrutiny of the site plan, and Lambert is making a significant financial investment in the project.
Bluestone Commons is but one development. It remains to be seen how committed the city and the University of Minnesota Duluth are to a full-fledged university district. UMD needs to pull out the stops on its campus master plan and commit to a Woodland Avenue gateway so Lambert can align Bluestone accordingly. The city needs to revise planning and zoning to facilitate the transition of the Mount Royal vicinity to a
Public infrastructure and amenities like widened sidewalks, safer crosswalks, cycle lanes, bike racks and so on are nonexistent or inadequate. Current land use is inconsistent, unplanned and disjointed. The current situation of corner gas stations, parking lots and muddled setbacks does not foster the kind of pedestrian- and cycle- friendly precinct that could be realized to the benefit of current property owners, developers, the university community and the wider neighborhood.
Meanwhile, in Smithville, Kuepers Architects and Builders of Baxter, Minn. is proposing Westwood Heights, a collection of eight-unit apartment buildings and a mix of single- and two-
family dwellings. The developer is reputable and has the expertise and resources to deliver original designs and high-
However, while I have not seen the plans, I am concerned that this 20-acre tract is less likely to be a welcoming extension of Smithville and more likely an insular enclave of curvilinear cul-de-sacs. Westwood Heights and future housing estates should enhance the built environment and meet sustainable criteria for walkability, connectivity, mixed housing, and quality design and construction.
Duluth’s Comprehensive Plan should incorporate these criteria, and the Planning Commission and City Council should abide by these guiding principles.
If not already under way, city planners and Kuepers ought to collaborate on a master plan so the new community coalesces with historic Morgan Park and Smithville — just as the Woodland site needs to coalesce with its surrounding neighborhood and UMD. Planners and Kuepers can achieve that outcome in part by ensuring that new streets conform to the grid, follow the numbered avenue system and connect with existing streets in the area.
Let us strive for excellence. Interested developers have confidence in the local housing market and inward investment is flowing into Duluth. Let us welcome them with a helping hand but also with high standards and clear guidelines.
Doug Pazienza graduated from the University of Minnesota Duluth in 1988 with degrees in urban and regional studies and in geography; he was an intern in the city of Duluth Department of Planning in 1985. He lives in London and was a readers’ judge for the London Evening Standard New Homes Design Awards.