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
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
"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
"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,
"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 said.
"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
"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 do it.''
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.''