City Council Votes To Protect Duluth's Green Space

By KBJR News 1

September 27, 2010 Updated Sep 27, 2010 at 11:09 PM CDT

DULUTH, MN. --- Ask around, and you'll find it's no shock that a developer's proposal to chainsaw 93 trees and put up a huge, electronic billboard isn't so popular.

But that's exactly what developers at Heartland Digital Outdoors would like to accomplish just off a busy stretch of highway near Duluth's Home Depot store.

The proposal in question was submitted to The City several weeks ago by developer Warren Olson of Heartland Digital Outdoors. Speaking at tonight's regular Duluth City Council Meeting, Olson said his project is worth at least $300,000 in commercial advertising dollars, and will bring more jobs to the community.

"The impact of this project will help ensure business, job, and economic growth," Olson said, describing the manpower, maintenance and money he said would be used to build and maintain the 10 x 30 foot electronic sign.

However, some in the community say those possible benefits just aren't enough to justify chopping down 93 healthy trees.

"For them to start tearing trees down just to put up more advertisement, would be a shame," said Duluthian Bob Pearson, who said he wouldn't support the idea.

"I think it would take away from how pretty it is," said Bettina Liimata, a Superior resident who says she frequents the Miller Hill Mall area.

Pointing to a dense stand of birch, maple, aspen, and pines, Liimatta commented:

"If you see the nice fall colors that are coming out, it would kind of take away from the natural beauty of the area."

Duluth's City Planning Commission used a similar philosophy when rejecting the bill-board plan last week.

Besides pointing to the "aesthetic value" of the unbroken stretch of trees, the commission also found the sign wouldn't hold up to The City's C-5 commercial district zoning rules. Those rules state that a treed buffer zone must exist on the property in question.

However, the planning commission isn't the final say in the matter. That's why the proposal landed on City Councilors' desks.

]What they developer is doing is saying 'I want you to change your code so I can have a sign, and I don't see any reason to agree to that," said Duluth City Councilor Kerry Gauthier in an exclusive Northland's NewsCenter Interview.

"There's no desperate need for that sign in that location."

However, some on the City Council argue that point, and say the area's distinctly commercial feel more than justifies the proposal.

"Right in the smack–middle of the Miller Hill commercial corridor..." said Councilor Todd Fedora, "So in this particular case, I don't think the City should act as an impediment."

Yet in the end, and despite those opposing viewpoints, the council voted 5-4 against allowing the special electronic sign.

Councilors say tonight's rejection from the City Council will most likely spell the end for the development proposal.

Developers say they aren't sure if they'll challenge the latest ruling.

Written for the web by Matt Standal