Duluth City Council OKs development, drug task force, more rental inspection

Tackling a diverse agenda, the Duluth City Council moved forward on three significant fronts Monday night: Setting the stage for new residential and commercial development below Spirit Mountain. Authorizing extra police overtime to fight drug tra...

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Tackling a diverse agenda, the Duluth City Council moved forward on three significant fronts Monday night:

  • Setting the stage for new residential and commercial development below Spirit Mountain.
  • Authorizing extra police overtime to fight drug trafficking in partnership with the federal Drug Enforcement Agency.
  • Approving funding to beef up the city's rental housing inspections.

Kayak Bay Village

By an 8-1 vote, councilors approved a proposed zoning change to open the way for a new development dubbed Kayak Bay Village.

Spirit Valley Land Co. aims to develop about 26 acres of land on the banks of the St. Louis River below Grand Avenue.

A mixed-use plan now in the works could allow for retail, a hotel, offices, townhomes, apartments and single-family dwellings.


Alone in his dissent, 1st District Councilor Gary Anderson said: "I just want to make sure that environmental concerns are paid attention to as we do this really important development work, especially as a lot is being proposed and is beginning to occur in the St. Louis River corridor. The asset of that river and access to that river is hugely important to all of us, and I feel it's important to use my position tonight to highlight that this river is for everybody, and we have to be very thoughtful as we move forward with development."

At Large Councilor Noah Hobbs countered: "I'm happy to support this, because it meets a lot of our goals. It's a new housing development, and housing is a severe need in this city."

Hobbs noted that the project also allows for both public river access and business development next to Spirit Mountain, which he said aligns with plans for the corridor.

Chiming in, 3rd District Councilor Em Westerlund said: "Part of the deal-maker for me was that 38 percent of the site will be preserved as open space." She expressed confidence that should allow for the property to be developed with minimal impact to sensitive wetlands and streams. She pointed out that new trail connections are also part of the plan.

Drug task force

The council unanimously authorized Duluth to enter an agreement with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency and set up a joint task force focused on investigating individuals and organizations involved in the trafficking of controlled substance pharmaceuticals and synthetic drugs, with the aim of disrupting distribution networks.

As part of that agreement, the city had to sign off on additional police overtime.

Hobbs noted that prescription opioid addiction often leads to heroin use, and said the proliferation of these drugs poses a big challenge for Duluth and the nation.


"I pulled this (from the consent agenda) to highlight the fact that city administration is working on this, and it also enhances our relationship with the DEA, which we haven't had a great relationship with in the past. So I just want to commend administration and our police department for working on this issue that really is affecting the city and our neighborhoods," he said.

Rental housing inspection

Councilors also unanimously approved the expenditure of an extra $81,000 to hire another building safety inspector to step up the city's oversight of rental housing in Duluth.

Duluth Fire Chief Dennis Edwards predicts the new position will more than pay for itself. He said that the number of rental properties licensed in Duluth has continued to grow, and he also said many landlords continue to operate under the city's radar.

With greater enforcement, Edwards projects the city could annually bring in an additional $168,000 in fees. He said the city currently licenses about 1,500 rental properties, but he suspects there are more than 250 unlicensed rental properties operating in Duluth.

At Large Councilor Zack Filipovich thanked city administration for the proposal and said he has been pushing for an examination of staffing levels at the city's Life Safety Office "since I got on the council over three years ago, in relation to enforcing our city housing safety laws and making sure they are enforced in a consistent manner."

Council President Joel Sipress also praised the creation of a third position in the Life Safety Office.

"For a number of years, we've had a backlog of inspections, and it has been difficult to keep up with all the inspections. Also, it has been determined that we have a significant number of unlicensed rental properties in Duluth that do not undergo rental inspections and therefore pose a potential health and safety hazard," Sipress said.

Peter Passi covers city government for the Duluth News Tribune. He joined the paper in April 2000, initially as a business reporter but has worked a number of beats through the years.
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