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The City Council Wednesday approved a six-month moratorium on zoning applications that could affect plans for new downtown development.

The request was made by the Planning Commission, which recently completed an 18-month project to update a 35-year-old comprehensive plan. The Council adopted the plan last month.

In the resolution, the Council "determined it is in the best interests of the public health, safety and welfare to provide for the orderly growth and development of the city as set forth in the plan." The consideration of any use variances or rezoning applications will not be in effect for six months.

Donn Hensel, chairman of the Planning Commission, explained, "This moratorium does not stop building in this community. It gives more flexibility. The new comprehensive plan shows how the land should be used. The new zoning laws will create how the land is used."

Hensel said the new zoning law will come before the Council for adoption by the end of the year, to become effective Jan. 1.

"Until this is done this moratorium provides a safety valve," Hensel said.

Alderman William Taylor said the city has already spent $50,000 to support the new plan and he would support the moratorium that was approved, 4 to 1, with Alderwoman Lana Riley voting against it.

Mayor Rosie Hoag asked the city clerk how long she would have in order to veto the vote and was advised that she has until 10 days after the resolution is presented to her.

Although she does not have a vote on matters, Mayor Hoag made it clear she was against a moratorium.

She said two men -- whom she did not name -- came to her last week explaining a project for the downtown area. She has called for a closed-door meeting for Monday with the men, the Council, Planning Commission and Zoning Board to hear about the project.

"With a project of this magnitude," she said, a private meeting is needed. "They will present all the facts Monday night and be present with their attorneys."

Other residents have reported being contacted by an Ellicottville realtor and offered $500 to "sit and talk" about selling their homes. At least one church and several commercial businesses are in the targeted area.

Most of the Council members identified the target area as the blocks along Broad Street, Park Avenue, South Main and Clinton and Summit streets, which are being eyed for projects such as a drugstore and bank, both now on Main Street.

Also, the Council approved an agreement to eliminate the Cattaraugus County Planning Board from reviewing certain zoning matters.

The change would eliminate county action on some variance requests by homeowners who want to make improvements such as decks, pools and small buildings, and reduces the process from 30 to 60 days, Mayor Hoag said.

The county Planning Department also has endorsed the change and a county representative will join Mayor Haog in a contract-signing ceremony at noon today.

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