Duluth comprehensive planning process ready to launch

Keith Hamre, left, and Adam Fulton.

Proactively planning Duluth’s future was an activity ignored for decades until 15 years ago, when the city launched the “2001 and Beyond” process, which was followed in 2004 by a comprehensive planning process. Now, it’s time for a 10-year update, Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO David Ross said at a Tuesday business breakfast.

The upcoming effort, called “Imagine Duluth 2035,” will be conducted in a different manner than the 2004-2006 process, said Adam Fulton, the city’s manager of community planning, replacing larger community meetings with focus groups and community outreach.

“We want to establish a dialog on housing, transportation, economic development and open space,” Fulton said, with city staff attending various meetings throughout the community.

“This is a fine tuning process we’re engaging in. We’ve had consultants lead efforts in the past, and we’ve benefitted from their insight,” Ross said. This year, however, the process will be conducted by in-house staff led by City Planning Director Keith Hamre. “The team from the city is talented, energetic and experienced. We are in good hands.”

Hamre said the process is off to a good start. About 2,300 people have already responded to a recent survey compared with about 300 a decade ago. A vision committee chaired by Mayor Emily Larson will oversee the effort. It has 45 members.

“We want to make sure we’re hearing from everybody,” Hamre said, “…make sure that everybody is successful.”

“We’re going to invite people to make sure we have a broad spectrum of representation,” Fulton said, reflecting all income groups. They will each meet three or four times, beginning with a kick-off meeting tentatively scheduled Sept. 21 at Denfeld High School.

Twelve principals will guide the effort:

• Reuse previously developed lands

• Declare the necessity and secure the future of undeveloped places

• Support the traditional economic base

• Support emerging economic growth sectors

• Strengthen neighborhoods

• Reinforce the place-specific

• Create and maintain connectivity

• Encourage a mix of activities, uses and densities

• Support actions that contribute to the public realm

• Take sustainable actions

• Include consideration for education systems in land use actions

• Create efficiencies in the delivery of public services

City staff will seek opinion at a variety of upcoming public events. They are listed at www.imagineduluth.com and include those typically attended by residents who don’t always participate in the political process.

A cost analysis will be part of the latest process. For example, Hamre said, participants will discuss how to pay for city services and questions such as the cost to provide open recreational spaces. Also to be studied will be the amount of property in Duluth on which taxes aren’t collected, such as municipal land, and real estate owned by non-profit organizations.

Some metro Minnesota cities are required to compile comprehensive plans, but that’s not the case with Duluth. The initiative is being driven from within.

“We need to come back constantly and revise (our) vision,” Hamre said. As part of the process, the city’s uniform development chapter (UDC) can be re-examined and, if needed, updated, Hamre said.

Moving forward, he believes public investment will increasingly be paired with private investment. “It will be one of the items we discuss,” Hamre said.

The comprehensive plan likely will address collaboration among Duluth, Hermantown, Proctor, Superior and surrounding municipalities, Fulton said.

“We’re having conversations with our partners in these various jurisdictions,” he said, although working with Superior is somewhat more complicated because it’s in another state governed by different laws.

The focus groups include several representatives of the business community, according to Hamre.

“When the focus groups meet, we invite you to be there and be part of the conversation,” he said. “The way this process works best is if we have everybody’s great ideas.”