Coon Rapids shoots down moratorium proposal

A proposed six-month moratorium on development and construction on currently undeveloped parcels zoned industrial in the city has been shot down by the Coon Rapids City Council.

The council in May had rejected a staff recommendation to enact an emergency moratorium to allow time for further study of the city’s industrial code with a new to possible changes.

And when the moratorium ordinance returned to the council June 5 after being introduced at the May 15 meeting, it was denied by a unanimous 7-0 vote.

According to Community Development Director Marc Nevinski, the moratorium is needed because the land use code is currently being updated to better align the city’s goals and strategies, the city has a limited supply of industrially zoned land and there has been recent expansion by targeted medical device and high tech businesses in the Evergreen Business Park.

The emergency ordinance was proposed because a large freight terminal has expressed interest in a Coon Rapids location, Nevinski said.

“Several companies in Evergreen Business Park have expressed concern over the amount of truck traffic a freight terminal would generate and impacts to the roads and traffic,” he wrote in a memo to the council.

“Additionally, freight terminals tend to develop less densely than manufacturing firms.”

The city’s economic development strategy calls for targeting high tech and bioscience type firms to enhance wages and wealth in the community, according to Nevinski.

The city’s per capita property value, household income and per capita income tend to be lower than peer cities in the metro area, Nevinski said.

Indeed, on average jobs in Coon Rapids have weekly wages 25 percent below the metro average, he said.

Nevinski said the modifications to the industrial zoning code could be completed and in effect at the end of August, at which time the moratorium could be lifted.

Owners of industrially zoned property in Coon Rapids had been notified of the May 15 and June 5 meetings at which the ordinance would be discussed.

Jim Stanton, longtime developer in Coon Rapids, who heads Coon Rapids-based Shamrock Development, which owns large chunks of property in both Evergreen Business Park and Coon Rapids Industrial Park, was ready to speak out against the ordinance June 5, along with Jerry Teeson, a realtor with Riverdale Realty Ltd., Coon Rapids, and commercial/industrial real estate consultant for Shamrock Development, but they did not have to.

Councilmember Paul Johnson was not opposed to the city moving forward with a study of industrially-zoned property, but he opposed “jumping in” with a moratorium.

Councilmember Scott Schulte made the motion to deny the ordinance. Councilmember Bruce Sanders seconded the motion.

Putting a moratorium in place would not be fair to property owners who have been paying taxes on the undeveloped land for many years, Schulte said.

A moratorium would be akin “to killing a fly with a sledgehammer,” Sanders said.

Councilmember Jerry Koch, who had voted against the ordinance introduction, called the moratorium proposal “punitive.”

Instead, he wanted to staff to sit down with the property owners to work on the issues, not “dictate” to them, Koch said.

According to Mayor Tim Howe, making changes to the industrial zoning district “smells of spot zoning.”

And he did not want the city to be in the position of possibly losing a company interested in locating in Coon Rapids because a moratorium was in place, Howe said.

“We should be taking a critical look at the comprehensive plan and zoning code to see where we want to be,” he said.

According to Nevinski, staff and the Coon Rapids Planning Commission have been working for the past year on restructuring and updating the city’s land use code to ensure that development patterns and land uses align with the overall goals of the community.

Right now, the industrial district zoning permits a wide variety of industrial land uses, some of which may not align well with the city’s economic development strategy and other community goals, Nevinski said in his report to the council.

Some of the undeveloped industrial parcels left in the city are remnants, which could not be developed individually, but there are some large parcels involved with significant development potential, he said.

While thanking staff for being on top of the issue, Schulte said he was not a great fan of centralized planning and he did not want regulations put in place that would be onerous to property owners.

Peter Bodley is at [email protected]