Loring Hill moratorium freezes high-rise development

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May 16, 2005 // UPDATED 1:54 pm - April 26, 2007
By: Jeremy Stratton
Jeremy Stratton

At its May 5 meeting, the City Council's Zoning and Planning Committee solidified a month-old ordinance that ends any Loring Hill high-rise development for 11 months.

Until April 1, 2006, city departments will grant no approvals, permits or licenses for "new or expanded building construction not permitted as of right" - meaning only projects current zoning permits will be allowed.

That will significantly affect two projects: a seven-story condo project at 401 Oak Grove St., which the developer has now abandoned, and a 16-story, 120-condo project at 1730 Clifton Ave. that may seek a waiver from the moratorium.

The committee's stamp will give the neighborhood time to complete a plan to guide future development in the area bordered by LaSalle Avenue, West 15th Street, I-94 and Lyndale Avenue South.

Although the language defines the "hardship" developers must prove to obtain a waiver from the ban, committee members indicated there will be few - if any - exceptions.

"This is a moratorium," said City Council President Paul Ostrow (1st Ward), who sits on the committee. "It's going to mean that significant development is not going to happen during this period of time."

The ordinance states that "the City Council is concerned about the scale, scope and rapid pace of development projects" in the area. The moratorium will "ensure that activity in the area will not undermine the future orderly development of the area."

The "as of right" clause allows smaller additions and improvements to go on during the moratorium. Loring Hill's current zoning limits building height to six stories; a Shoreland Overlay District nearer to Loring Pond limits those heights to two-and-a-half stories.

The ordinance states waivers may be granted, "where the City Council finds substantial hardship ... and that the waiver will not unduly affect the integrity of the planning process."

At the meeting, Mark McDonald of the Episcopal Diocese at 1730 Clifton lobbied for a waiver, saying the Diocese had invested $500,000 towards an August 2005 move to Gethsemane Episcopal Church, 905 4th Ave. S. The move would vacate the Clifton site for sale to developer Dan Hunt, whose condo proposal has not yet gone through the city's approval process.

City Planning Director Barb Sporlein said that major projects "with building permit in hand" before the moratorium began on April 1 may proceed.

Committee Chair Gary Schiff (9th Ward) said waivers would be considered on a case-by-case basis. The committee did not consider waivers for Hunt's project.

Ironically, the committee's next order of business was a waiver for Dunn Bros Coffee, 329 W. 15th St. Height was not the issue; an atrium accessible to people with disabilities was built without a permit.

"Shame on you!" said Councilmember Lisa Goodman (7th Ward,) who supported the coffee shop but was "embarrassed" that the work had been done without a permit.

Ostrow said the Dunn Bros situation fit the definition of one that should be granted.

"I will move approval of a waiver to the moratorium," Goodman said. "That'll be the last time you'll hear me saying that."

The waiver was approved.