Councilschedules hearing on multi-unit moratorium

Published on Thu, Jul 1, 2004 by eg Olson

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Council schedules hearing on multi-unit moratorium

By Meg Olson

Blaine city council was sharply divided over a proposed moratorium on multi-family housing projects in the heart of Blaine, and decided to take the debate to the public before moving forward.

A proposal initially submitted by Dennis and Ann Olason asked council to consider putting an immediate stop to multi-family construction in the southeast portion of Blaine’s downtown. Dennis Olason said the proposal was spurred by concern in his neighborhood over the recently approved Adelia Commons project.

When staff presented the proposal to city council at their June 28 meeting they expanded the area under review to include the whole area zoned medium density east of Mitchell Street. Community planning director Terry Galvin suggested they might want to consider a more sweeping ban. “We should have a very good rationale for just identifying that neighborhood rather than the city at large,” he said. “By enacting a moratorium we could create a ripple effect. If people can’t develop in this area we’ll be getting calls when they move to another part of the city.”

Council member Bonnie Onyon favored taking immediate action and expanding the scope of the moratorium to all the medium density and single/duplex residential areas of the city. “We have almost twice as much land for multi-family as for single family only. It should not be more than a third for a family community – the American dream,” she said. “If we’re serious about this we need to do it now. I’m for an emergency moratorium.”

City attorney John Sitkin said city council could pass an emergency moratorium immediately, holding a public hearing after the fact. “You use a moratorium as a tool to freeze the status quo and give yourselves time,” he said. He added the moratorium would only apply to projects who had not completed an application for development with the city, and as such would have no effect on the Adelia Commons project. Sitkin also cautioned that council needed a compelling reason for putting their decision before the public’s opportunity to comment. “To say if you schedule a hearing you’ll have a rush of applications is fabricating the emergency,” he said.

Council member Bruce Wolf was adamant that the issue of imbalances in residential land use was best addressed through the comprehensive plan and zoning map review the city was set to embark upon. “At a time when we’re trying to get some development here using the word moratorium is dangerous,” he said. “I don’t see an emergency.” Wolf also added that “a moratorium where you don’t have a public hearing first goes against my grain.”

Council member John Liebert favored a public hearing at the end of the month, giving staff time to refine which areas would be considered for a potential halt to multi-family development, and compile some background on why the moratorium might be needed. “How many multi-family units are there now in Blaine,” he asked. “How many have vacancies?”

City manager Gary Tomsic recommended council not be precipitous in their desire to protect historically single-family dwelling neighborhoods from a perceived flood of townhouses. “I think it’s a stretch to say we have an emergency,” he said. “We really need to think about a moratorium it’s a big decision. There is a signal being sent. Sitkin agreed. “It’s a sharp and heavy tool,” he said.

Liebert suggested they back away from the idea of imposing a moratorium and instead hold a hearing to gauge the public’s desire to limit multi-family development and take it from there. “We can have more time, be more informed and make a better decision,” he said.

Council approved the motion to hold a hearing on the matter July 26 by a vote of six to one, with Onyon voting ruefully with the majority and Wolf voting against the motion.