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City goes forward with 18-month moratorium on apartments

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After myriad gavel claps and pleas to “maintain order” from Germantown Mayor Mike Palazzolo, the Germantown Board of Mayor and Aldermen unanimously voted to hit the pause button on future apartment developments within the city.

In front of a standing-room-only audience, board members deliberated whether to impose a limited moratorium on multi-family developments or to ban them completely.

After listening to comments from nearly a dozen residents, board members opted to impose an 18-month freeze on new apartments in an effort to slow down rapid development in the city.

Several residents asked the board to consider a permanent squeeze on apartment complexes, which Aldermen Dean Massey and John Barzizza openly considered.

“This moratorium comes at a time when there is great interest in Germantown,” said Vice Mayor Mary Anne Gibson.

Gibson added an amendment to the moratorium to rezone the corner at Germantown, Cordova and Neshoba roads back to single family residential.

Commonly referred to as the Cordova Triangle, the area had possibly drawn interest for a future multi-family development.

In an effort to curtail “broad statements” from citizens before the public comment portion of the meeting, Palazzolo noted that the city has had apartments since the “late 1960s” and added that Germantown is consistently rated one of the safest municipalities in the state.

Richard Marsh, who has lived in Germantown for more than 50 years, was the first to speak. He acknowledged that many residents are concerned that more multi-family developments will escalate crime rates, traffic congestion and school expansion efforts, while reducing property values.

“But the greatest fears that many have about these issues are really unfounded,” he said, adding that the currently proposed mixed use developments are “high quality” and intended to attract young professionals and retired couples.

Margaret Jackson was next to speak. Noting that she is not “anti apartment or anti development,” she said the currently cramped schools were her concern.

“We are already so overcrowded in the schools that even adding 20 kids is really going to hurt us,” she said. “We are already building a new school but that is to accommodate the overcrowding that already exists.

“I’m glad you’re doing a moratorium to let us catch up,” she continued. “Because my feeling is not that I don’t want development. I don’t want it to come so fast that we can’t accommodate what that brings.”

Marlene Strube, who has lived in Germantown for more than 25 years, called the moratorium “too little, too late.”

“Multi-family developments that are already in various stages of approval will already increase student populations beyond what the schools can handle,” she said. “The majority of this (governmental) body has approved developments at such a rapid pace that we could be faced with needing one or two new schools before the one that is currently slated for construction is finished.

Strube added that Germantown’s Smart Growth Plan, the general land use plan that was adopted in 2007 for the city’s Central Business District, was presented to the public as “lofts, businesses, condos and townhouses.”

“What we seem to be getting is apartments instead,” she said. “Slow this train down.”

Jim Jacobs said he felt “betrayed” by the city’s initial proposal of the Smart Growth Plan, noting that the land was originally proposed single-family residential.

Jamie Picunko helped circulate a petition earlier this week to accept the 18-month moratorium and extend it to “indefinitely” in an effort to “close the loopholes” in that moratorium that would allow apartments in all ‘mixed use’ developments.

She noted that the petition already has 2,575 signatures.

“Not closing those loopholes would allow the city to continue developing at it’s current rampant pace, which residents are sure will more than overburden our already packed school system,” the petition states. “Residents are concerned at how quickly zoning has been changed in large sectors of the city and developments approved by city officials despite multiple citizen petitioning. Many of these zoning changes are what has allowed developers to deviate from the normal residence types in our historically bedroom community and propose small lot homes and apartment and mixed use complexes.”

Picunko told board members that the Smart Growth Plan has “allowed all of this dense development.”

“I hope the moratorium continues beyond 18 months,” she said. “The Planning Commission is pushing Smart Growth through before the areas area ready.”

Barry Britton urged the board to slow down with regards to future development.

“We just keep cutting down trees and putting up black top,” he said. “Are we going to pave the entire city?

“Germantown is a community. We have everything that we need,” he continued. “I just want Germantown to stay Germantown.”

Patsy Mclaughlin said she doesn’t “want anymore apartments” in any part of the city.

“We didn’t used to be able to have signs over a certain height,” she said of Germatown’s ordinances. “Now we’ve got a five-story building.”

Palazzolo said the moratorium would give city staff time to determine what future developments would be best for the city.

“With the increase in interest from multi-family developers, we just need a bit of time to really dig in and assess the impact of these types of developments,” he said.

“We will use this time to study related demographic trends, burden on and access to city services, schools, infrastructure, emergency services and more,” he continued. “Rapid development of multi-family units can result in a disproportionate impact on city resources, services, utility systems, traffic, schools and public safety.”

Palazzolo noted that the Forest Hill Heights development, which is slated to include more than 600 apartment units, recently created a “great deal of market demand” in the city for developers.

Unlike developments like Thornwood, which is more cohesive with traditional homes, luxury apartments, retail, restaurants and offices, the Forest Hill Heights development lacks what Palazzolo refers to as a “master developer.”

A master developer like Thornwood allows for “better and more cohesive planning.”

Palazzolo said “stand alone projects” like Forest Hill Heights are challenging to “fit the pieces together as far as zoning and mixed use.”

“Immediate market demand was a direct result of activity in the Forest Hill Heights area and the lack of a master developer in that area,” he concluded.

Despite agreeing the short term moratorium, Massey and Barzizza were vocal in their opinion that it should be extended.

“Germantown residents do not want any apartments in the city,” Massey said after calling for a moratorium on all apartments, “regardless of the phase of approval, location or potential to have multiple uses.”

Barzizza said the moratorium should be “permanent.”

“Forget the 18 months,” he said. “This is what you want. This is why you’re here.”

However, City Attorney David Harris said a moratorium, “by its nature, is temporary.”

“The proposed moratorium would give the board the opportunity to go back and make whatever changes were necessary to the ordinance itself,” he said.

Massey said the Cordova Triangle isn’t the only neighborhood that should be “protected from future apartments.”

“This should be applied city-wide,” he said.

Massey added, “We’re not giving up on stopping apartments altogether.”

There are four developments that are already underway. These will not be influenced by the moratorium.

They are:

• TraVure – Poplar and Kirby – mixed use development on 10 acres – five-story office, retail and hotel

• Thornwood – Germantown and Exeter – mixed use development on 16 acres – hotel, retail, 278 apartments

• Forest Hill Heights – Winchester and Forest Hill-Irene to Crestwyn – mixed use development on 303 acres – hotel, retail and currently two apartment buildings (Watermark and Veridian) with more than 600 units

• City Center/Carter Property – Germantown Road and Miller Farms Road – mixed use development on 33 acres – hotel, retail/office and an estimated 300 apartment units

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