The Moratorium Agreement 

For a period of six months at least, Shelby County's development community and the development-wary County Commission have agreed to be yoked in a marriage of convenience. Or rather in a mutual pledge of abstinence.

That was the precedent-setting nature of the moratorium resolution passed Monday by the commission. Only two commissioners -- John Willingham and Joyce Avery, both of whom passed -- dissented from a judgment that was agreed to even by Chairman Tom Moss, a leading homebuilder himself.

And, though objections to the resolution had been anticipated from, say, the Memphis Area Homebuilders Association, whose members would in theory be most affected by the half-year shutdown in new housing starts and rezoning applications, the association issued a statement of cautious acceptance, positioning the association as officially "neutral."

Amplifying on his group's attitude, Homebuilders president Mack Andrews called the resolution "no big deal" and noted that from a practical point of view, the number of new lots already under way was sufficient both to provide for homeowner demand during the six-month moratorium period and to keep the economic interests of developers and homebuilders at an acceptable comfort level.

At last week's meeting of the commission moratorium committee, Commissioner Deidre Malone, who had ably chaired the committee's efforts over the past several months, said she was convinced that the six-month cessation would not adversely affect the development community. Her commission colleague Bruce Thompson underscored that point with an apt analogy: "If homebuilders have houses that cost $120,000 to build and they can only sell them for $100,000, they'll stop building them," making the point that unregulated suburban sprawl was creating red ink for county taxpayers. Not to mention quality-of-life issues associated with sprawl, such as traffic congestion, the clear-cutting of wooded lands, and the cost of providing utilities and police protection.

Andrews expressed the hope that the moratorium -- which applies only to housing applications within unincorporated areas of Shelby County, the domain of most explosive growth -- would give local and state officials reason to find alternatives to past and pending proposals such as those for a real-estate transfer tax and impact fees on developers. He also said the breathing spell should be used to rethink the prevailing Average Daily Attendance formula that apportions school construction funds at a 3:1 ratio to the city over county schools.

Fair enough. Rethinking would seem to be the whole point of the moratorium, which at least establishes forethought and responsible planning as governing principles for the future development of Shelby County. We commend both our elected representatives, who have acted responsibly in the role, as Commissioner Julian Bolton put it, of "gatekeepers," and the development community, which has wisely accepted the role of partner in this brave new undertaking.

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