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Council Halts New Development On Panoramic Hill

By Judith Scherr
Thursday June 19, 2008 - 09:28:00 AM

The day before a judge was to rule on the university’s right to build a sports training facility adjacent to Memorial Stadium, the City Council voted 8-1 to temporarily halt all new development in the Panoramic Hill neighborhood, just south of the stadium. 

The 45-day moratorium, which can be extended for two years, got the supermajority council vote it needed, with Councilmember Betty Olds the lone dissenter.  

During a two-year period without development, city planners hope to kick-start a planning process aimed at upgrading the area’s substandard sewers, inadequate water for fire fighting, crumbling, narrow roads and more. 

Jerry Wachtel, president of the Panoramic Hill Neighborhood Association, told the council that the community has been searching for solutions to the area problems for 50 years. “This is the first concrete step,” he said. 

Olds agreed with area residents that the upgrades are critical, noting that road she took 55 years ago to visit friends has not been upgraded since. She opposed the moratorium, however, saying that it would take the council’s will and not a moratorium to get the upgrades put in place. 

Planning Director Dan Marks, who initiated the moratorium, said it would buy time for planners to write an initial ordinance that would restrict building on the most substandard sites, lots on which developers can now build legally. 

A more thorough document that would change zoning laws and require formal environmental review “will be a three-to-five year planning process,” Marks said. The two-year moratorium will allow the city to develop “interim regulations to protect the area,” he said. 

While the group of about a dozen people from the Panoramic Hill Neighborhood Association who had come to the City Council supported the moratorium, some expressed fear that the city could run away with the process. 

“There’s a huge development potential,” Panoramic Hill resident Janice Thomas told the council. “The city’s interest may be at odds with the neighbors.” 

While Marks responded that his department would meet with residents, his other remarks underscored the development potential some neighbors said they fear. 

“How do you pay for the sewers and roads?” Marks asked. “I’m not proposing to do that with city funds at this time.” The alternative may be to sell existing lots, he said. That could bring in tax money and developer fees to fund the projects. 

“I don’t like that approach at all,” Councilmember Dona Spring responded. 

Olds said she feared that the university, which owns undeveloped property nearby, could take advantage of upgrades in the neighborhood. 

“The university is the elephant in the bedroom—or living room—waiting for us to do the sewers, then put in 200 houses,” she said. 

Panoramic Hill area resident Suzanne Scotchmer told the council that, in addition to her home, she owns one of those substandard lots in the area and was happy to keep it undeveloped.  

“It would be irresponsible to build on it—safety trumps greed,” she said.