The Ruston council decided last night that the moratorium on any new business will stay in effect. Staff outlined the emergency exists because there are inconsistencies between zoning code changes that are not yet reflected in the comprehensive plan (which can only be updated once a year). After overwhelming testimony from business owners outlining the very real harm they are experiencing from this moratorium, elected officials directed staff to hurry the process as much as possible rather than lift the moratorium. Officials are concerned the floodgates will open and undesirable business will try to locate in Ruston before the codes can be clarified. One council member said she wants to protect the investments of those who testified tonight by not allowing a bad business to open next to them and decrease the value of their property.
In short, Ruston leaders have determined the small risk of having a unpopular (but legal) business try to fill one of our many vacant retail spaces over the next six to eight weeks outweighs the real harm to current landlords trying to not only improve their property but enhance the quality of life in Ruston. The town attorney confirmed the council can declare an emergency at any time for any reason to impose moratoriums and such legislative action is pretty much bulletproof. Despite the pleas from everyone who testified tonight, the council would not consider releasing the hold on development while they update their codes and plan.
This emergency was declared at the March 19th regular meeting. There was nothing announced to indicate the issue was under consideration. Minutes from that meeting are not yet available. The town has sent out two newsletters since this major action was taken, yet the only indication was Ordinance 1400 filed with the other ordinances on the town web site. The issue came to light this weekend when a potential tenant for the corner building on Pearl contacted the president of the business district to confirm what he had been told by the Ruston planner - no new business is allowed in Ruston for the next six months.
I do not agree that the risk of having a "bad" business open in Ruston while the process of updating our books comes anywhere close to justifying the harm their moratorium creates on our businesses. The business district has been working very hard to recruit and promote this area to potential businesses. All those efforts, not to mention those of the property owners, has been flushed. Even under the expedited process discussed tonight, we lose the best marketing time of the year to recruit new life into our all-to-empty spaces. And such drastic action for what is a normal updating procedure sends the wrong message to potential developers - that we don't care about businesses; that we want to pick and choose what types of business we like and exclude those we deem not up to standard.
There is a balance in life that even applies to legislative action. The risk should outweigh the harm. All voices are important and should be sought out, listened to and considered. That is not what happened with this issue and I am disappointed in our leadership. That's my opinion - what's yours?