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Zoning change would allow residential development in some Superior manufacturing districts

The proposal would all mixed-use development in light manufacturing districts, like the one in North End.

Government Center in Superior.jpg
Government Center in Superior. (Jed Carlson / jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)

SUPERIOR — City officials are making plans to rewrite the zoning code in 2023, but the plan commission is already starting to look at the lay of the land to see what works and what doesn’t.

At its Wednesday, April 20, meeting, the commission even made one recommendation to send the city council for consideration: to allow mixed-use development in light manufacturing zones.

“We anticipate that our zoning code rewrite planned for 2023 will incorporate this change in our downtown district to allow for more residential development,” said Jason Serck, economic development, port and planning director.

A developer has expressed interest in a development with a residential component in the North End that would be a good fit for the area, Serck said. However, the city’s zoning code doesn’t allow any residential development in manufacturing zones.

Serck acknowledged there are some existing legal and nonconforming homes within manufacturing districts, but any new development would not be allowed.

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“We did something like this when I was on the plan commission in Duluth in rezoning parts of Lincoln Park with light manufacturing and residential uses,” Commissioner Garner Moffat said. “It was extremely successful to help create the craft district over there.”

Historically, manufacturing and residential development have blended in Superior, Mayor Jim Paine said.

Most Superior neighborhoods developed around the industries where people worked: South End around the Webster Chair Manufacturing Company; North End around the working waterfront; Billings Park around the West Superior Iron and Steel Company; Allouez around the Great Northern Ore Dock; and Itasca around the arrival of the Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis and Omaha Railway.

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“We want somebody that can represent us in the largest art project we ever had in the city,” Mayor Jim Paine said.

“Sometimes housing and manufacturing don’t mix,” Serck said. “You wouldn’t want to build a house near, say, Hallett Dock or anything like that where you’ve got a lot of noise.”

Paine said he approaches the question from the perspective that people should be allowed to live where they chose, but city officials have to be mindful that developers may not fully appreciate the challenges of the locations they hope to develop,

“If they’re willing to live next to the coal dock, I don’t mind either,” Paine said. “However, in reality it doesn’t always shake out that way. All the councilors here have heard complaints about railroad noise … and we have a rock crushing plant in the North End. People knew it was there when they moved in, and they’re upset about it.”

While the initial proposal called for mixed-use developments in both the light and heavy manufacturing zones in the Winter Street Industrial Park and around the petroleum industry on Hill and Stinson avenues, Moffat proposed restricting mixed-use to light manufacturing zones like those found in North End and other parts of the city.

While Paine said he would agree that apartment complexes shouldn’t be built by the refinery, he said the Winter Street Industrial Park would be suitable to mixed-use development.

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Moffat said if the Winter Street Industrial Park would be suitable for mixed-use, perhaps it is zoned incorrectly and rezoning it would be a different conversation. However, he said the heavy manufacturing districts aren’t developed to create a quality living experience.

Commissioners accepted the amendment to allow mixed-use development only in light manufacturing zones.

“Is there a particular reason we need to limit this to at least four dwellings?” Commission Dave Strum asked.

Strum noted that some existing commercial buildings may not have the capacity for the commercial space and the minimum number of dwellings proposed in the ordinance change.

Strum said he wouldn’t be opposed to a minimum of four dwelling units in a new structure, but he was skeptical that some existing buildings could get two units on the second floor.

He proposed amending to a minimum of two units.

Commissioner Ann Porter said it didn’t make sense to have the minimum number of units when someone might simply want one larger unit over a commercial development.

Commissioners struck language requiring a minimum number of dwelling units, only requiring that it be a mixed-use development in a light manufacturing zone.

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“It allows more flexibility,” Commission Brent Fennessey said.

The city council will consider the zoning change May 3.

Shelley Nelson is a reporter with the Duluth Media Group since 1997, and has covered Superior and Douglas County communities and government for the Duluth News Tribune from 1999 to 2006, and the Superior Telegram since 2006. Contact her at 715-395-5022 or snelson@superiortelegram.com.
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