City looks to moratoriums to slow building boom

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The current development boom in Minneapolis is good news for the local economy, but it’s raised concerns about out-of-control urban design in some neighborhoods and forced city officials to introduce a cooling-off measure that would’ve been unheard of even a few years ago—a development moratorium.

The City Council’s Zoning and Planning Committee on Thursday unanimously approved a moratorium on development on Nicollet Avenue between Franklin and the Midtown Greenway—the third such measure introduced in the past year. As in the other two cases—Loring Heights and Uptown—residents and business owners along Nicollet have raised concerns about approving new projects before a comprehensive area development plan has been completed.

“It’s time to pause and be thoughtful,” said Council Member Robert Lilligren, who suggested the one-year moratorium. “We want to be sure we’re going to come up with the Nicollet Avenue we want.”

The moratorium will slow the development of “one or two projects,” said Lillgren, while city planners and neighborhood residents put together a study designed to create a more pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use landscape along the avenue. The new study will likely recommend higher-density development, taller buildings, more transit-oriented design, and an end to strip malls.

The study has been in the works for about a year already, Lilligren said, and now is in the hands of city staff. He doesn’t anticipate much resistance from developers in the meantime.

The Nicollet Avenue moratorium follows closely on the heels of a similar measure recently proposed for the Uptown area. Last year, the council shut down development projects in the Loring Heights area near downtown.

Lilligren, himself, is no big fan of moratoriums. He said he opposes slowing development in Uptown even as he defends his support for a similar approach in his own ward. Unlike in Uptown, he said, “there’s a planning process in place on Nicollet.”

Both plans are likely to receive a skeptical reception from Mayor R.T. Rybak, according to his communications director, Jeremy Hanson. Though he’s been sympathetic to the issues raised by Uptown residents over proposals for ever-taller buildings in their neighborhood, Rybak “is not a fan of moratoriums,” Hanson said. “They should only be done as an effort of last resort.”

But Uptown, Loring Heights, and Nicollet Avenue all bring unique arguments to be considered when discussing a moratorium, Hanson noted. Rybak did not oppose last year’s Loring Heights effort, and he may not reject the Uptown measure. “They’re not all created equal,” Hanson explained. “Nicollet is not Uptown. It’s not Loring Heights.”

The full council will take up the Nicollet Avenue moratorium at its October 6 meeting.

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