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Duluth City Council talks zoning, lights, leadership

Zoning, lights and a change of leadership dominated the conversation at a meeting of the Duluth City Council Monday night. Street lights Several concerned citizens raised concerns about the type of new street lights that will be installed when th...

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Zoning, lights and a change of leadership dominated the conversation at a meeting of the Duluth City Council Monday night.

Street lights

Several concerned citizens raised concerns about the type of new street lights that will be installed when the reconstruction of Superior Street begins later this year.

"We are being robbed of our night sky," said Lance Reasor.

Katie Krikorian urged city leaders to opt for less-bright 2,700-kelvin LED lights with a warmer hue she described as "mellow yellow," instead of higher-kelvin LEDs that produce harsh blue-toned light.

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Businessman Rod Raymond, who owns the old City Hall building and Fitger's Brewhouse, stressed the importance of maintaining the warm historical feel of downtown Duluth.

"If we light this place up like Walmart, it's going to hurt business," he said. "It's going to ruin the vibe."

Although the issue of Superior Street lighting was not on Monday's council agenda, David Montgomery, Duluth's chief administrative officer, did offer an update on the project.

"We have, at least at this point internally, made the decision to go with 2,700-(kelvin) along Superior Street. We're still determining where we can get those and how cost-effective they can be. We expect they'll be a little more expensive, but we are pursuing that avenue at this point in time," he said.

Zoning change

The council voted 8-1, with 2nd District Councilor Joel Sipress in the minority, to approve a previously tabled ordinance that will bring property in the vicinity of Boundary Avenue and U.S. Highway 2 into agreement with the city's comprehensive plan for the area.

Sipress noted a previous proposal to rezone the area had stirred concern, when a developer disclosed plans to build a large Kwik Trip station on the site.

"I very much appreciate the fact that our planning staff is working with our Planning Commission to address that issue of whether, with the growth of gas stations, we need to make a change in our zoning code to make sure that in these neighborhood zones, like the mixed-use neighborhood zones, that we put a limit on the size of gas stations. That item is on the Planning Commission agenda for tomorrow," he said.

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But 5th District Councilor Jay Fosle said: "I don't think we should speculate what's going to go on the property. This is a rezoning, and anything could go there in a mixed-use that's allowed through a mixed-use. I don't know of any other time that we've speculated that a store or a gas station is going to go in there. And I kind of don't think we should be hindering our gas stations either."

Even if the planning commission moves ahead Tuesday with restrictions on the size of gas stations allowed in areas zoned for mixed-use neighborhood development, Sipress warned that approving the zoning change Monday would create a window for a large-scale project to move forward.

But fellow councilors removed the ordinance from the table nevertheless and approved the zoning change despite his objections.

Leadership change

The council unanimously voted Monday night to elect At Large councilors Elissa Hansen and Noah Hobbs as the body's next president and vice president respectively.

Hansen, who replaces Sipress at the helm of the council, said: "I want to thank you, my fellow councilors, and the public for your confidence and your patience with me."

Referencing some initial confusion with a motion to elect Hobbs, Hansen joked: "My motto is to fail fast, for any of you who haven't heard that from me. So hopefully I can do that in this seat and maybe only at so many meetings and not every single one."

Liquor store fine

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By a unanimous vote, the Council approved a $1,000 fine against University Liquor, 1603 Woodland Ave., for selling alcohol to an underage, undercover customer in August. The violation marked the third consecutive time the business has failed a compliance check, but the last citation dated back to 2012.

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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