City Council quickly reverses Downtown development moratorium

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July 9, 2002 // UPDATED 1:26 pm - April 30, 2007
By: Kevin Featherly
Kevin Featherly

A year-long development moratorium in the Downtown East and North Loop areas enacted by the City Council was unanimously reversed July 12 after just two weeks.

In June, the council approved without discussion the moratorium, which froze all commercial, residential and industrial development. The goal was to assure that new development fits with Downtown light rail and an ongoing master planning process.

Because of special rules for such "interim ordinances," the moratorium went into effect the instant the council uttered its "ayes."

That didn't sit very well with developers, architects, real estate agents and others who either have projects or plan to have projects in the area. About a dozen people complained at a July 11 public hearing that they received no notice of the move and had no chance to give their input.

Planning Department engineer Jack Byers said the year-long moratorium would have given city planners a chance to wrap up the master plan and allow the council time to approve necessary zoning changes.

Many speakers at the July public hearing said a moratorium only stood in the way of planned projects already in conformance. A freeze would only drive away solid neighborhood development, defeating the master plan's real purpose, they said.

The moratorium allowed waivers, but developers complained that process would merely slow down or even kill off important projects.

"Two weeks [or] two months may not seem like too long in terms of the long-term planning process of the city, but in today's market, it's an eternity," said Robert Mortenson of Steilow Properties, an area property owner. "You just can't put people off for two weeks. There are too many opportunities."

Peter Solac, owner of Woodland Stoves and Fireplace, 1203 Washington Ave. S., said the ordinance would prevent him from making improvements to his business.

"I'm not going to sit in front of bulldozers to stop progress," he said. "But to be hamstrung in a position where you can't sell and you can't improve and you can't grow and you can't move is a very difficult position to put anybody in."

David Fields, a member of the Elliot Park neighborhood board, said the moratorium would have sent a message that Downtown master planning must be taken seriously by builders. However, he acknowledged that it was "almost too heavy-handed," and "does send out a hostile message."