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Comprehensive plan will map the future for Duluth

The University of Minnesota-Duluth should have a more visible presence in the community, say consultants working on a comprehensive plan for Duluth. SmithGroup JJR principal planner John Stockham says he had been through Duluth dozens of times as...

The University of Minnesota-Duluth should have a more visible presence in the community, say consultants working on a comprehensive plan for Duluth.
SmithGroup JJR principal planner John Stockham says he had been through Duluth dozens of times as a boy and never knew the university existed.
"It's a hidden asset," Stockham said. "Over a 20-year period I'd like to see the university gain more prominence. In Madison (where SmithGroup JJR is based) the university is a big part of the city culture, and I think it could be here."
Over the next year and a half Stockham and city planners will be working to put together a comprehensive plan for the city. The plan will be a vision of what Duluthians want the city to look like in 20 years.
Ideas on how to make the university more visible could be included in such a document if that is what residents want. More than 60 public meetings will be held in the coming months so that the planners can get a real sense of the direction the community wants to go. The consultants spent the better part of this week in Duluth meeting with people and familiarizing themselves with the city and its neighborhoods.
A few years back, city residents met and outlined a vision for the future of the city, called "Vision 2001." That plan will be the starting point for discussions on the comprehensive plan, which will add to it and extend the length of the vision.
The overall comprehensive plan, a document Stockham expects to be about 200 pages, will include individual neighborhood plans for each of 10 smaller areas of town.
Duluth has 29 neighborhoods. The planning department has grouped them into 10 districts for the purposes of the comprehensive plan. Each area of town will have meetings for neighbors to talk about their hopes and goals for their part of town.
Hamre and Stockham hope lots of people come out for the meetings. "We want to see the whole community get involved in the planning process and beyond the planning process," Hamre said. "If it's going to be successful, it's got to be a plan that the community holds up and says, 'This is what we want to have happen.' That's what we need to have come out of this process."
The selection of SmithGroup JJR hinged on its philosophies regarding community involvement. Mayor Gary Doty recommended the firm, saying he was impressed with all the finalists, but selected the firm that showed a better understanding of how the city wants the public to be part of the process.
Doty's recommendation was countered by another resolution by Councilor Ken Hogg to hire a different firm. The controversy that ensued over the eventual hiring of SmithGroup JJR is not expected to have much of an impact on the process of drawing up the comprehensive plan.
"I sure hope not," Stockham said. "I don't think so. We work with cities all the time. Duluth's not alone in having controversies over this kind of decision."
The planners predict that the controversy over the selection process will be forgotten the minute they start talking about development in one neighborhood where there is no development now.
"If this plan does anything, it will generate that controversy and generate that discussion about what should happen," Stockham said.
Once the neighborhood plans are completed, then the process of weaving them together into an umbrella statement will begin. In the end, the city will have a report that will have a land use component, a transportation component, public facilities, major sewer lines, parks and open space. Those kinds of things will all be mapped out for 20 years down the road.
Stockham hopes to have a Comprehensive plan document completed by April 2002. After that, the firm will outline a long-range capital improvement program, improvements that will need to be made over a 10 to 20 year period to implement the ideas in the plan.
The final report will be an implementation strategy. It will be a report to the city on ordinance changes that should occur, what the city should be doing in terms of financing systems to implement the plan, and are there annexation issues that should be addressed. Anything that needs to happen to bring the plan into reality.
With a comprehensive plan in place, the council will have solid ground to stand on when discussing proposed development.
"The indecision among councilors over development stems from having no comprehensive plan," Hamre said. "This will help guide where we're going to be going."
Jennifer Simonson is a health and news reporter for the Budgeteer News. Contact her at 723-1207 or at jsimonson@duluth.com .

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