Neighborhoods keep planning Some groups
upset city left them without leadership
BY CHUCK FREDERICK NEWS TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
Anger boiled, and in at least one corner
of Duluth there was plenty of city-bashing.
But for the most part, neighborhood planning districts
returned to business during their first gatherings after
a consultant was fired and the city's comprehensive planning
process was thrown into disarray.
"The natives were restless. They still wanted to
beat up the city planning department,'' Allan Beaulier
of Smithville said of his district's first meeting since
the turmoil of the past two months. "I guess we were
able to regroup, but it sure wasn't easy. We have a lot
of work to do.''
Neighborhood planning districts were
created from Fond du Lac to Lakeside more than a year
ago. The idea was to encourage grass-roots input and participation
as the city plots its future through the year
2020. The groups have been meeting monthly.
But they were told not to meet in December. Just days
earlier the city fired SmithGroup JJR, the Madison, Wis.,
consulting firm hired to lead the planning process. The
decision was made amid concerns about SmithGroup's leadership
and vision, as well as its delivery of maps and other
"We never saw it coming. There was
no inkling of this firing at all, none. We're still dismayed,''
said Don Dass, a regular at planning district meetings
in his Lakeside-Lester Park neighborhood.
"I'm afraid the city may have politicized something
that absolutely should not be political,'' he said. "There's
not a whole lot of trust right now. The rug was really
pulled out from under us.''
"We were left speechless and up
in the air,'' said Claudia Lundquist of the planning district
that covers Lincoln Park/West End. "All of a sudden
there was nobody leading us. We were working, working,
working and then all of a sudden, nothing. It really left
a lot of people hanging.''
All 10 districts have now met since Duluth
and SmithGroup split. City staff attended those first
meetings. They answered questions, listened to concerns
and tried to offer direction. "Each
district has its own personality. It's tough,'' said Chuck
Froseth, a city planner working with neighbors in Central
Hillside, Observation, downtown, Park Point, Woodland,
Kenwood, Hunters Park, Morley Heights, Lakeside-Les-
ter Park and the North Shore. "It wasn't
damage control, it was more 'What the heck happened? Why
did you do it?' We tried to tell them. And we tried to
help them get refocused,'' Froseth said. "I think
people are still concerned with trust and with what happens
next. But we're getting through it.''
Duluth planning officials are moving
forward as well. In City Hall, planning
staffers are identifying the city's industrial resources
and their locations, said Mike Conlan, the city's director
of planning and development. They will also pinpoint industrial-zoned
land for city leaders to decide if that's the best use
for the property. Planning staffers
are also completing a draft of the city's medical district.
Both plans could be complete by the end of the month,
Conlan said. "There are parts
of the process that are very visible and parts that aren't,''
he said. "Just because these things can't be seen
at the neighborhood planning district level doesn't mean
nothing's going on.''
But the city still hasn't received maps
and other information SmithGroup was to provide the city
in December, when the contract was severed.
Conlan said he's not overly worried about SmithGroup's
delay, but is working to get the maps and information
so staff can use the data. What
happens next is neighborhood plans, Froseth said. He hopes
each district will create a plan by summer that will detail
where businesses should go, where housing could be created,
what the neighborhoods' goals are, their objectives and
the things their residents hold sacred.
"The neighborhood plans will be mini plans of sorts,''
Froseth said. "We can add to them later on. But they'll
give us a base.'' The city hopes
to have a new consultant hired by summer, too, Froseth
"The first meeting we had there
was a lot of pent-up stuff that came out,'' said Beaulier,
whose district covers Fond du Lac, Gary-New
Duluth and Morgan Park. Issues neighbors vented
over included a proposed rezoning of Fond du Lac, the
possibility of new housing there, and sewer and sinkhole
problems in Morgan Park. Neighbors
in Congdon and Endion walked away from their first meeting
feeling pretty good. They finalized a vision statement
and managed to avoid talk of the firing, said Larry Sundberg,
a St. Louis County health department worker who lives
on Jefferson Street. "Everyone
just said we want to continue the process and move ahead.
We still want this to happen,'' Sundberg said. "We
felt it was important for the neighborhood group to continue,
so we did.''
The district asked plenty of questions
at its resumption meeting, Sundberg said. Most were heartened
when city officials assured them the process' steering
committee wouldn't be disbanded or that neighborhood land-use
maps wouldn't be discarded when an overall citywide map
is created. "All of this is
too important to give up now,'' said Lundquist of Lincoln
Park/West End. "People do still want to be involved.
Neighbors should have a say in planning the next 20 years.
We certainly don't want to let some outsider come in and
Across town in Lakeside-Lester Park,
neighbors have decided they want a streetscape plan to
bolster their East Superior Street business district,
in-fill housing, a way to deal with the loss of big trees
when streets are widened, and new townhouses so older
residents can remain in the neighborhood.
"There are still plenty of things we want to see
happen,'' said Dass, a Jay Street resident who does drug
interdiction at Duluth's main post office as a member
of the Minnesota National Guard.
"The dust has to settle now,'' he said. "I mean,
we were making great progress. We had a pretty good idea
what we wanted to see. Then all of a sudden we didn't
know where anything was at. "But
there are things we care about very strongly,'' he said.
"We don't want to see it all screwed up. We have
to stay involved.''