David's Blog

Monday, October 24, 2005

Sweet on Sugarloaf

By a seven to two vote, the Duluth City Council recently approved Sugarloaf Enterprises’ rezoning petition, allowing residential development on sixty-five acres of property above beautiful Skyline Parkway. The development will accommodate 72 houses.

The Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce strongly supported and advocated for the necessary rezoning and the subsequent development it will make possible. Consequently, we applaud the seven city councilors who supported this needed development. These councilors apparently agreed that Duluth would benefit from: additional market rate housing; increased property tax revenue generated by the new neighborhood; and the construction jobs provided by the building of 72 houses.

The development becomes even more attractive when one realizes how the developer will install and pay for the streets, sewers, water and gas connections necessary to service the new housing development. Additionally, the city will benefit from the property taxes it will collect on 72 houses estimated to be in the value range of $400,000 to $600,000.

The development becomes almost ideal when one learns of the environmental protections that have been incorporated into the development plan. The new neighborhood will be set back from Skyline Parkway by a winding road that will provide a visual and sound barrier between the Parkway and the new houses. There will be a limited clearing of vegetation on each building lot. Long stretches of forest will be protected. There will be multiple storm-water collection pools.

Councilor Greg Gilbert was one of the seven councilors supporting this environmentally sensitive development. He was quoted as stating: “My sense is that you can’t do development any more environmentally sensitive than what we are talking about here.” He also heralded Sugarloaf’s willingness to refashion the development into a more environmentally sensitive site as “a watershed moment in Duluth’s history of real estate developments.”

I applaud Councilor Gilbert’s vote and expression of support for this kind of development. I also congratulate Councilor Roger Reinert for facilitating the dialogue that allowed the parties involved in this project to refashion the planning process into a new and improved way to do development. Councilors Little, Stauber, Atkins, Stewart, and Ness also supported the development. They should be commended.

However, Councilors Johnson and Stover voted against this development - which, as I shared earlier, was described as the most environmentally sensitive development that Councilor Gilbert has seen in his eight years on the council. Councilors Johnson and Stover voted against this development that, as I mentioned, was heralded as a watershed moment in Duluth’s history of real estate developments. How can this be?

In defense of Councilor Johnson and Councilor Stover, it must be noted that they articulated their reasons for opposition. Councilor Johnson indicated she believes the project will trigger sprawling growth, similar to that associated with big-box retail stores. She also said that development drawings offered up by developers aren’t always what really ends up on the land. Councilor Stover was concerned about what he believes will be a lack of emergency service vehicle access to the development. He also was concerned with the traffic generated by the 72 families who will live in this new neighborhood.

I respectfully disagree with Councilor Johnson’s and Councilor Stover’s votes and with their logic. Frankly stated, if they could not find a way to support this development, is there any development they can support? Are these the kinds of votes and the kind of councilors you want representing you? You decide.

posted by David Ross at

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