My neighborhood is in a war. We are not fighting with each other. Instead, we’re fighting against a more elusive and dangerous foe: the specter of commercial development.
We all received letters in the mail from the city planning department, which described a proposal to rezone our neighborhood from a Traditional Residential one to a Mixed Use Neighborhood. This could open up our streets to stores and businesses.
When I bought my house nineteen years ago, one of the major selling points was the “quiet neighborhood” where it was located. Even though it was near a shopping center, on the other side a massive city park offered a bit of wilderness, not to mention periodic backyard visits by deer, bear, and moose.
Friends and acquaintances who heard about my new home congratulated me. “It’s the nicest street,” they said. And it proved true. The street was full of long-term residents who cared about their community and their neighbors. We helped each other during snowstorms, floods, and ice storms.
Even 19 years later with new residents, the helpfulness is still there. My neighbors are invested in their homes and in making the neighborhood a good place to live.
But already, commercial development is encroaching. Two banks and an insurance agency take up one end of the street, which fronts a busy main artery and the shopping center. Basically, the planning agency proposes to extend that business district farther down my street and one block over, rezoning areas where people’s homes currently sit. The rezoning would impact 8 or 9 homes. My home is outside the area by the width of one home.
Our property taxes have increased due to a new apartment and business complex built a block away. I would not be surprised if someone wants to build something similar on my street.
Last week, the planning department held a public meeting about the rezoning proposal. There are three spots they want to rezone. Nobody protested the other two, which are located along already busy streets. All of the discussion focused on the plan for my neighborhood.
Residents, especially the ones in the homes inside the rezoning area, were concerned and angry. Some have already been approached by a developer, who also had the cajones to be at the meeting and to speak in favor of the rezoning. (You should have seen the nasty looks he got! My neighbors might be nice, but not when their way of life is threatened.)
At the meeting, one of my neighbors said that it makes no sense to rezone an established neighborhood to a Mixed Use Neighborhood and invite more development right into the middle of it. I agree with her.
My home was built almost 100 years ago by Swan Gustaf Anderson when he was 72 years old. His $450 mortgage was held by the Supreme Lodge of the Sons of Norway. I am the eighth owner of the house. I’ve been investing a lot in upkeep and remodeling of my home, but if rezoning occurs and a retail or apartment development goes in, I would be a fool to continue making that investment in a property that may one day have a view of dumpsters or a parking lot instead of big trees and homes.
This rezoning idea goes against provisions for Mixed Use Neighborhood development in Chapter 50 of the City of Duluth Legislative Code. One of the purposes of establishing a Mixed Use Neighborhood District is to, “Encourage mixed use redevelopment, conversion and reuse of aging and underutilized areas, and increase the efficient use of commercial land in the city.”
Our neighborhood is not “underutilized.” It is home to families who have lived there many years. Our homes may be aging, but they are all in good shape because we have invested in them. I would also argue that it is not an efficient use of commercial land in the city to displace people from an established neighborhood.
It also goes against one of the governing principles in the city’s comprehensive land use planning document. Principle #5 on Strengthening Neighborhoods says:
The present city is an historical amalgam of villages and other independent units of government, contributing to the present condition of Duluth being strongly defined by its neighborhoods. This condition should be reinforced through land use, transportation and public service delivery patterns which strengthen neighborhood identity. New institutional expansions, major public infrastructure or large commercial or industrial uses should not divide historic neighborhood patterns.
Allowing a commercial development right in the middle of our neighborhood is no way to strengthen it.
Fighting a zoning war is not how I wanted to spend my summer, but it’s necessary, I guess. Here we go!