The city of Winona is preparing to enact an emergency moratorium Monday prohibiting development on two blocks surrounding the riverfront condominium formerly owned by Dave McNally.
It's an emergency, they claim, but city officials have remained mum about what, exactly, might be coming.
The area, stretching from Second Street to the river and Johnson to Winona Streets, was given a relaxed zoning classification without setbacks or lot size requirements in 2009 in an attempt to spur redevelopment in the area and allow the condo project to move forward. The zoning class, called "B-2.5," allows for residential and commercial development and does not include parking requirements.
The condominium project began in 2011 but was never finished. The property, along with the adjacent Tri-Mac store, were both recently transferred to River Bank of La Crosse. City officials have said the bank is now preparing to market the properties, adding that "certain types of high-density" projects might present problems with parking and other city priorities.
The moratorium would allow the condo project to be completed — but only "as planned," to include 16 high-end residential units. It would prohibit any other new development under the lax zoning class.
Those loose zoning regulations have been in place for years. When asked what has turned the situation into an emergency now, city leaders were unwilling to provide specific answers about what they fear might be brewing.
"We don't know what the redevelopment opportunities are," said City Planner Mark Moeller, who explained that the city would use the four-month moratorium to complete a study on the B-2.5 zoning classification and its potential ramifications for the area. "We don't want to be in a position to create a huge problem. If we wait too long, it may be too late, frankly."
Winona Community Development Director Lucy McMartin, who confirmed she had discussed the property with River Bank, said the city simply needs to ensure "parking and density" issues are addressed. "We anticipated the building being built into 16 condo units," she explained, adding that because that plan has not been realized, the city must prepare for what the future might hold for the spot.
The Winona Post requested any communication to or from city officials about the parcels and the two-block area, using state statutes which classify such government information as public.
When asked whether her conversations with the bank had given any indication as to how the condo and adjacent parcels might be redeveloped, McMartin cut the conversation short: "No, and I'll take a look at your data request [be]cause, you know, if I have a conversation with a business I don't… I just…," McMartin trailed off. When asked what she had meant, and whether she would consider such communication public data, she ended the conversation. "I didn't finish my sentence and I'm not speaking anymore," she said. "We're done."
Some of the highest density housing developments in Winona are rental properties. City leaders have in the past been hesitant to permit projects that would add dense housing in the core city marketed to college students, citing some of the same concerns on the table now — parking congestion often at the top of the list.
Winona State University (WSU) Vice President for University Advancement Jim Schmidt said WSU does not have any interest in the condominium building for student housing or other university purposes. Kent Grover, President of the Winona Housing Association, declined to comment on any private plans to add student housing at the site.
On Monday, the Winona City Council will meet at 5:45 p.m. for an informational meeting at City Hall to discuss the issue. It is expected to vote during the regular meeting, beginning at 6:30 p.m., on the emergency moratorium. Keep reading the Winona Post for more on this story.
Chris Rogers contributed to this report.