More tall buildings soon could be coming to Duluth if At Large City Councilor Zack Filipovich has his way.
On Monday, the Duluth City Council is expected to take up a resolution that directs city staff to embrace more multi-story, high-density development as a strategy to preserve green space, protect views and avoid urban sprawl.
"I don't see how we can substantially grow our city and at the same time not expand our utility infrastructure without having more dense and taller buildings in areas," said Filipovich, who introduced the resolution.
The councilor makes a valid case for more dense development, said Keith Hamre, Duluth's director of planning and construction services.
"From an economic development standpoint, we want more density. We want to maximize our utilities and the other infrastructure we have in place," Hamre explained.
The City Council will be asked to resolve that Duluth should "encourage and use high-density zoning, building up rather than out, as a tool to preserve green space and to protect the city's viewshed."
Residents' preoccupations with height restrictions haven't always served the community well, observed David Montgomery, chief administrative officer for the city of Duluth.
"I know we have looked at things with a number of our hotel developments. I think actually some of the key questions were missed a little bit, where folks got overly focused on height. So instead we have these wide, squat buildings, and if you're on the street, now you've completely eliminated the viewshed, because on the street, you can't see over a three-story-tall building," he said.
"You go for 200 feet before you see an opening. Where if you looked at something more narrow but higher, you'd have the opportunity to create openings. So the issue around viewsheds is important, but I just get concerned about resolutions that lay something like this out when I'm not really sure what the intent of that request is," Montgomery said.
Filipovich's resolution met with mixed support from fellow councilors at an agenda session meeting Thursday.
"I am an advocate for density, and I'm very concerned with sprawl," said City Council President Joel Sipress.
But he questioned Filipovich, noting: "There are multiple strategies by which one can achieve density. There's infill. There's townhomes. There are lots of strategies for achieving density. But the only strategy that is specifically mentioned in this resolution is height, and I'm wondering what your thinking was?"
Filipovich responded: "I don't know any other way to achieve more density in a single area of land other than by going up. If we're going to have more people in one spot, we're either going to have very tiny places to live or we're going to need to have taller buildings or a combination of both."
At Large Councilor Noah Hobbs also suggested Filipovich's resolution was perhaps too narrowly focused on building heights.
"My concern, to piggyback on Councilor Sipress' comments, would be that there are multiple ways to accomplish increased density, and if we were going to just pass this, does that shortchange the rest of the conversation about the other tools we should be using and that are identified as best practices when it comes to city planning?" he asked Hamre.
"What it tells me is to consider all the possibilities - not just narrow and tall buildings but to consider all the available tools," Hamre responded.
He elaborated: "I take the intent of this resolution to be that we consider and have a dialogue about open space, viewsheds, building heights, density, urban form - all those things."
Filipovich said he is not advocating a one-size-fits-all approach, noting that strict height restrictions remain appropriate in certain places, such as Skyline Parkway.
Rather, Filipovich said he sees his resolution providing direction and saying: "Let's think about this and let's discuss this idea about having taller buildings and narrower buildings and promoting walkability and bikeability."