Larson announces permitting changes, downtown task force

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Mayor Emily Larson announced changes to the city’s permitting process and the formation of a new downtown task force in her annual State of the City address Tuesday evening.

Responding to years-long complaints about Duluth’s permitting and review process, Larson said the city is implementing a new digital process to review electronic plans. She said the current paper system has been slowing things down.

Under the new system, multiple departments will be able to complete reviews simultaneously.

"From start to finish, it means fewer meetings, and faster and more efficient permitting with quicker turn-around for staff and our community," Larson said.

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Larson said she is also convening an internal audit of the city’s economic development strategy to identify internal policies prohibiting growth and steps that could be eliminated, as well as ways to communicate expectations up front and improve communication with private sector partners.

Meanwhile, Larson said the city needs to address illegal behaviors downtown and tackle blight, specifically calling for the demolition of the Shopper’s Parking Ramp on North 2nd Avenue West.

She announced the formation of a downtown task force chaired by Greater Downtown Council President Kristi Stokes and Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation President Shaun Floerke.

"I’m charging this Task Force with convening partners from the public and private sector to provide recommendations within five months on four key areas: downtown safety, activation, investment, and vision. These recommendations will be made public," Larson said.

On other topics:

  • Larson called for the revival of "community courts" that bring together judges, probation officers, prosecutors, law enforcement to identify chronic offenders and develop specific plans for each person.
  • Larson set a goal for every resident and business in the city to have access to affordable fiber optic internet within six years and announced a pilot project, using federal money, to enroll about 2,000 homes in the Lincoln Park neighborhood in the next few months.
  • Larson announced that Duluth has committed to the Cities Race to Zero effort that seeks to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

Larson said the areas of economic development, public safety, connectivity, sustainability are linked, saying businesses seldom request fewer public services or benefits.

"Instead, they talk about solid infrastructure, a reliable and qualified workforce, housing, access to childcare, transportation and energy, and high on the list – safe neighborhoods and a great quality of life," Larson said.

Larson said Duluth is "no longer that city living in the economic shadows," citing new records for building investment in the city in each of the last three years and businesses such as Costco, ST Paper, and Cirrus. She said the city is now "fielding constant inquiries about investing in Duluth."