After being informed that a building permit application for the Hines proposed development would be submitted on June 12, the City Council voted unanimously to put the project under its moratorium on new building in the Town Center.
The moratorium prohibits submission or acceptance of applications for building permits, or other development approvals, related to new construction taller than two stories. Hines had previously been exempted from the moratorium due to a legal risk and a promise to include public amenities that align with the Town Center visioning process that began last year.
Hines and the city referenced three public benefits: a large public plaza, 200 commuter parking stalls and a high-end grocer. Parking negotiations, which began last December, are “at an impasse” due to the city’s financial situation, said City Manager Noel Treat. A store like Whole Foods seems to be off the table.
The visioning process, which has incorporated input from consultants, stakeholders and citizens to determine the desired future look and feel for the Town Center area, has not been completed. In fact, it has been extended, though the moratorium is set to expire on June 16. The Council will hold a public hearing and decide whether to extend the current moratorium at its June 15 meeting.
The latest design for the Hines five-story mixed-use development did not pass the city’s Design Commission review on May 27. Hines would still be able to file for a permit, but the city wouldn’t issue it until after design approval.
When the Council was making the decision to exempt Hines from the restrictions it imposed on all other potential projects in the Town Center, they received a letter stating that Hines would give them 15 days notice before filing for a permit. Deputy Mayor Dan Grausz said he solicited the letter, but that if Hines did not negotiate in good faith with the city, he would vote them into the moratorium. The Council voted twice on the moratorium and Hines exemption – on Feb. 2 and March 16.
“I believe that this letter that they sent is something that we can hang our hats on and basically hold them,” Councilmember Benson Wong said at the March 16 meeting. “And if they renege on their representation and take a step backwards, I will be the first to vote them back into the moratorium.”
Other councilmembers were concerned about the uncertainties of the project. Councilmember Jane Brahm voted in the minority (2-5) to get rid of the Hines exemption in March.
“We don’t have anything in writing. We have a letter and a promise. We don’t have a legally binding contract,” she said. “I think that if Hines wanted to work with us, if they are true to the letter that they gave to us, that Councilmember Grausz solicited from Hines, then, they’ll wait for the moratorium to be over and come back.”
Last night, she said, “I believe it was the right vote then, and I believe it’s the right vote now.”