New restrictions on the height of new buildings near residential properties soon could go into effect in Duluth.
"We want to let developers know that Duluth's open for business, but at the same time we want to respect neighbors and make sure we don't block their views," said Patrick Boyle, president of the Duluth City Council.
"As a council, we're very cautious after what happened with Beacon Pointe," said Boyle, referring to a waterfront condo development that stirred local controversy for obstructing lake views.
The council is expected to vote today on an ordinance introduced by Councilor Sharla Gardner. It would bolster restrictions on buildings erected on sites zoned mixed use-neighborhood, mixed use-commercial, mixed use-business park and mixed use-waterfront. Right now, there is a 35-foot maximum height restriction on buildings put up within 400 feet of a property zoned for single-family residential development, but the council will consider extending that restricted zone to 500 feet.
A proposed large-scale development in the 2100 block of London Road recently reignited debate about how to protect neighbors' views of Lake Superior.
While that project prompted Gardner's ordinance, she said: "We don't want to base a zoning code on one potential development. We want something that can be used effectively throughout the whole city."
The council also will consider extending the buffer zone around property zoned for higher-density R-2 residential development. City code already places a 50-foot height limit on mixed-use buildings within 300 feet of an R-2 residential property. If Gardner's ordinance passes, that same height cap will apply to any buildings erected within 500 feet of an R-2 parcel.
Keith Hamre, Duluth's planning director, said he considers the restrictions proposed by Gardner to be reasonable.
Without being overly restrictive, Hamre said, "we've got some viewsheds people want to protect."
Dan Maddy, an attorney for London Acquisition LLC, the entity working to redevelop the 2100 block of London Road, said his client does not oppose the new, more-restrictive height rules.
Gardner said she sees much opportunity to rezone and redevelop much of the London Road commercial corridor in a more thoughtful way.
"A lot of it really has that commercial, fast-food flavor right now," she said. "And that's fine, but I think we can be a lot more creative and do things that will better show off the view of the lake."
Boyle said the ordinance the council will take up could help set the right tone for redevelopment in the area.
"I think it lays a good foundation," he said, noting that specific plans for mixed-use projects such as the one by London Acquisition will still need to be reviewed and approved by city planning officials.
Boyle noted that since the freeway was reconfigured and routed through a tunnel system, the traffic pressure on London Road is much lighter.
He suggested future development could focus on making the road more appealing not only for motorists but also other users.
"It could be a beautiful corridor, designed to be more friendly for bikers and walkers, too," Boyle said.