Residents asked to share vision for the future

An observant visitor to downtown Duluth will see buildings made of myriad building materials and in a variety of architectural styles: The windows of the US Bank building towers kitty-corner from the mosaic tiles of the cosmetology school; the tw...

An observant visitor to downtown Duluth will see buildings made of myriad building materials and in a variety of architectural styles: The windows of the US Bank building towers kitty-corner from the mosaic tiles of the cosmetology school; the two towers of the Alworth and Lonsdale buildings boast the elaborate stone trimmings more indicative of buildings constructed in the early 1900s.

While the style of the buildings downtown varies tremendously, nearly all of the buildings in the heart of downtown Duluth stand directly next to the sidewalk ... except the North Shore Bank of Commerce Auto Bank building at the corner of Second Avenue West and First Street. The auto bank is a piece of 1970s suburbia dropped smack in the middle of downtown, sitting far back from the road with parking out front and drive-through lanes in the back.

While it's a logical location for a bank, the building itself sticks out like a sore thumb.

Enter form-based code. Rather than the traditional zoning based mostly on use -- think residential, commercial or industrial -- form-based code is based more on the form of buildings and how they relate to public spaces (and, to a lesser extent, on the use proposed for that building).

The city's new Unified Development Code -- which will replace Duluth's 50-year-old zoning code once it's developed -- proposes form-based codes for commercial corridors in five specific Duluth neighborhoods: Grand Avenue and Central Avenue in West Duluth; East Superior Street in Lakeside/Lester Park; London Road from South 12th Avenue East to South 21st Avenue East; West Superior Street in Lincoln Park; and the Downtown/Canal Park/Central Hillside areas of town.


Form-based code does not dictate architectural style, so planners will not be insisting the new McDonald's come in a Tudor style. But it does address everything from the relationship between buildings and the public realm (streets and sidewalks) to the form and mass of buildings in relation to one another as well as the type and scale of streets and blocks. Under a form-based code, the North Shore Auto Bank building probably wouldn't exist in its current layout.

However, developing such a code shouldn't happen in a vacuum. Nor is it.

City planners want you, the residents, to weigh in with your preferences by participating in "community visioning exercises." There are six such meetings scheduled over the next two weeks, each one focusing on a particular area of town. (See Page 4 for a time and place for each meeting.)

"We want to make sure to preserve the historic character of these neighborhoods," said Cindy Petkac, land-use supervisor for the city. "At the meetings, we will be asking people to rate images shown in a PowerPoint presentation."

It won't be a "choose A or B style" exercise, she said. Instead, people will rate the images on a scale of +5 to -5, keeping in mind what type of buildings they'd like to see in their part of town.

"We're looking for people's gut reactions, really," Petkac said. "'What would you like to see, what would you not like to see?'"

After the meetings, the consulting firm will take the information from the visioning exercises and use it to develop the form-based code for each particular area of town.

While the old zoning code is being replaced across the city with the new Unified Development Code -- which will give the city's Comprehensive Plan the teeth to legally implement its goals and vision -- only those five areas of town already listed will have form-based codes, each one essentially tailored to that neighborhood.


A Colorado company specializing in zoning codes and unified development codes, Clarion Associates, is working with the city to develop the new Unified Development Code for Duluth.

"After the Comprehensive Plan, the update of our zoning code and the creation of a new Unified Development Code is probably the single most important planning effort the city will undertake for the next several years," Mayor Don Ness said when the city kicked off the process of developing the new code with a public meeting in December.

Community meetings

There are six different community visioning meetings scheduled; each one focuses on a particular form-based district. Community members are encouraged to help the city outline a vision for the future of each of these special character areas. The meeting schedule follows:

  • Monday at 6 p.m. in Mr. D's Banquet Room (5622 Grand Ave.) for Grand Avenue and Central Avenue area in West Duluth.
  • Tuesday at 6 p.m. at the Lakeside/Lester Park Community Club (106 N. 54th Ave. E.) for East Superior Street in Lakeside/Lester Park.
  • Wednesday at 6 p.m. in City Hall, Room 402 (411 W. First St.) for London Road corridor from South 12th Avenue East to South 21st Avenue East.
  • Thursday at 8 a.m. in the Lyric Room at the Holiday Center (207 W. Superior St.) for Downtown/ Canal Park/Central Hillside.
  • June 29 at 6 p.m. at the Harrison Community Center (3002 W. Third St.) for West Superior Street in Lincoln Park.
  • June 30 at 6 p.m. at the Central Hillside Community Center (12 E. Fourth St.) for downtown/ Canal Park/Central Hillside.

Call 730-5331 for details.
A comp plan refresher

It's been three years since the Duluth City Council adopted the city's new comprehensive plan. It was the fourth time in its history that the city had engaged in the public process of planning for the future development of Duluth, but only the second time a plan was formally adopted. The first time was in 1927, although a 1958 plan has been the basis for the city's land use regulation for 50 years.

The enforcement tools of any comprehensive plan are the laws that guide land use.

Currently, Duluth is operating under the laws from a 50-year-old zoning code which was based on a very different comprehensive plan.


Now the city and Clarion Associates, a consulting company hired to help with the process, are moving forward with the development of a legal framework for comprehensive land-use regulations called the Unified Development Code.

The UDC will include development standards that respond to many comprehensive plan goals, which are missing in the existing zoning code. These include standards relating to landscaping and buffering, mixed-use development and commercial corridor design, as well as standards relating to pedestrian walkability, bicycle circulation and transit-oriented design.

In addition to the new standards, the UDC will include innovative form-based districts to guide development in special character areas of the city.

To read the entire comprehensive plan and keep abreast of current developments, go to the city's Web site at and click on "Planning" under "City Offices." There are sections there for both the comprehensive plan and the Unified Development Code.

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