Richfield has placed a moratorium on development of an area that includes property owned by the local American Legion so officials can study the feasibility of building a community center there.
But American Legion Post 435 — which has the largest membership in Minnesota — is balking at the pause, saying it limits the group's ability to move forward in selling the parcel, which could affect the sale price and ultimately the post's viability.
"This has been a frustrating process," said Adam Seamans, commander of Post 435. "It almost sounded like [the city] forgot who the property belonged to."
The moratorium temporarily halts any development that requires zoning or planning changes along five blocks of Portland Avenue and for about a half-mile of 66th Street. It doesn't prohibit selling the land.
That means developers must wait seven months to submit plans for the 4-acre property to the city, Seamans said, which "basically kills any development on site for 2021."
The Legion is selling the land, which it has owned since 1957, to cover $250,000 in taxes and vendor bills.
The post itself won't dissolve. In fact, members hope to lease meeting space on site once development occurs, Seamans said.
The city wants to explore buying the parcel to build a community center since it's next to Veterans Park, a city park containing a pool, a mini-golf course and an ice arena.
John Stark, Richfield's community development director, disagrees that the moratorium will stifle developers' interest. He's already gotten inquiries about it, he said.
"I think that [the Legion] is looking at this as kind of a worst-case scenario, and that doesn't match the experience I've had," Stark said, referencing past moratoriums the city enacted.
The Richfield City Council took a final vote on the moratorium Dec. 8.
At that meeting, the council reduced its length from nine to seven months.
City officials hope to know in a month whether a community center is possible. "Money is a huge [factor]," Stark said. "Number two is priorities for the community."
The post has more than 1,000 members, Seamans said. They hail from Minneapolis, Richfield, St. Paul, Bloomington and Burnsville.
The membership overwhelmingly voted to sell in mid-November, he said, adding that he didn't know about the moratorium plans until hours before the meeting where the council approved the first reading. "Obviously, it was a bit of a surprise for us," he said.
Stark said the city has been talking with Legion officials for a while about putting the process on hold, but the city used the word "pause" rather than "moratorium," Stark said, creating miscommunication. Moratoriums are a tool cities can use in the development process, he said. This is the third time the city has enacted one in a dozen years.
The Legion's financial situation "is what it is," Seamans said, so it needs to be nimble. Legion leaders were using the city's 2040 Comprehensive Plan as a guide to what could be built on the property, he said, adding that it is zoned high-density residential.
The property is likely worth between $2 million and $4 million depending on its use, Seamans said. Ideally, Legion members hope to see meeting spaces, a smaller restaurant and bar, an auditorium and affordable housing on the site, with some units dedicated to veterans.
The Legion will pick a real estate company soon and try to proceed with the sale, he said.
Members want to "get on sound financial footing," he said, so they can focus on their main goal — helping veterans.
He plans to meet with Richfield Mayor Maria Regan Gonzalez to discuss the situation.
Peter Coyle, the Legion's attorney, said there's no time to waste. The Legion needs to make decisions, he said, and the market is hot now.
"No sane buyer would buy land with no future use determined," Coyle said.
Erin Adler • 612-673-1781