Taking a break from development

City Councilmember Ralph Remington plans to propose temporary moratorium on new development in Uptown

Developers seeking variances or conditional-use permits for projects in Uptown might have to put their plans on hold.

City Councilmember Ralph Remington (10th Ward) said he plans to introduce a six-month, right-to-build moratorium to slow development within the boundaries of the Uptown Small Area Plan study area.

A steering committee made up of Southwest community members and representatives from local business associations began working on a 20-year land-use plan for Uptown in June. The plan is supposed to take 12-18 months to develop.

Remington’s idea for a moratorium came about after some steering committee members raised concerns about the possibility of developments taking shape in Uptown before the small area plan is adopted, he said. A moratorium could prevent construction that might not comply with the committee’s final recommendations. He said the development situation would be assessed after six months and the moratorium could be extended if necessary.

“This is not about stopping development,” Remington said. “It’s taking some time, stepping back and looking at smart growth.”

The proposed moratorium would require anyone requesting a variance or conditional use permit for a development within the Uptown study area to apply for a waiver. The City Council would need to approve the waiver before the regular application process for construction could begin.

Variances or conditional use permits are often required for developers whose buildings do not comply with city ordinances. Developers who have already submitted applications and those who wish to build within the city’s restrictions would not be affected by the moratorium, Remington said.

Some community members applaud Remington’s efforts, but others said restricting development could do more harm than good.

Jeff Rosenberg, a member of the East Isles Zoning Committee who has been active in the Uptown planning process, said a moratorium would send a message that Uptown is not interested in gaining new developments, businesses or residents.

“This is a major mistake,” Rosenberg said. “It’s telling people that Uptown is not open for business.”

If a moratorium is enacted, Rosenberg said Uptown could experience more than a year without any major new developments since planning projects takes a significant amount of time.

“I hope that after the plan is done we’re going to want to see development in the area,” he said.

Steering committee member Tim Prinsen, who represents East Calhoun, said introducing a moratorium after the Uptown small area planning process has begun is unfair to developers who have projects in the works, but haven’t submitted an application yet.

“I think it’s a cop-out and a change in the rules halfway through the game,” Prinsen said.

He said the City Council already has the power to vote down applications, so a moratorium seems unnecessary.

Remington said a moratorium would create another step for developers to climb before approval, requiring a more serious case for construction to be made.

One of those strong cases would have to be made by investor Curt Gunsbury, who has proposed building a 100-room boutique hotel on Holmes Avenue in Uptown. Gunsbury’s ideal hotel configuration would require a variance for height, and he won’t be ready to submit an application for construction until November.

If the City Council put Gunsbury’s project on hold, he said he might have to cancel it since market conditions and investor relationships could change dramatically before a moratorium is lifted.

“Uptown might lose its opportunity to ever have a hotel,” Gunsbury said.

Remington said it is unlikely Gunsbury would not be allowed to submit an application for construction, but he would have to apply for a waiver under the moratorium if the building exceeds zoning criteria.

Several steering committee members said they are glad Remington is taking a serious stance on development in the Uptown area.

“I think it’s a bold move,” said committee member Renee Gust, who represents East Isles. “Finally, someone has made a statement as far as planning is concerned. I’m glad our plan is being taken seriously.”

Though most developers with projects in the pipeline have already applied for or received construction permits, Gust said she thinks there will be others on the way.

Committee member Keith Sjoquist, a Calhoun Area Residents Action Group (CARAG) representative, said a moratorium would give the committee some stability and could prevent a flood of construction applications during the next year before the plan takes effect.

Remington plans to introduce the moratorium Sept. 22. The City Council can act on it immediately after introduction, and the moratorium can take affect the same day.

One other moratorium has been enacted recently in Minneapolis. City Councilmember Robert Lilligren (6th Ward) introduced a moratorium on new construction along Nicollet Avenue from Franklin Avenue to the Midtown Greenway on Aug. 18. It was enacted that day. The city is looking at adding a pedestrian overlay district in that area.

Jake Weyer can be reached at 436-4367 and [email protected]