No. 8: Stagnant development remains issue
Editor's Note: This is the third in a series of 10 stories counting down The Telegram's top 10 stories of 2011 as chosen by The Telegram staff.
BY ANGIE HAFLICH
Stagnant residential development has been an ongoing issue for years in the greater Garden City area, which forced the city in 2011 to take steps to come up with solutions to the community-wide problem.
Only nine single-family homes had been built in Garden City as of the end of October, according to building reports from the city's planning department. It's a far cry from the 1990s, when builders were building around 30 houses in Garden City per year, city officials have said.
The "housing crisis," as many city officials, including Mayor John Doll have called it, has had staggering effects community wide. Some local officials have said the lack of available rental housing is a burden when attracting new employees from out of town, while others have agreed the lack of available housing has kept newcomers away from Garden City and raised rents on the families that already are living and working in the community.
One tool implemented earlier this year to combat the local housing crisis was the adoption of rural housing incentive districts by the Garden City Commission.
The RHID program allows qualifying developers who construct new affordable housing units to recoup the incremental property taxes that occur following development for up to 15 years. The program's incentive to builders is to allow them to use the money they would otherwise pay in increased property taxes for costs associated with other projects, such as duplexes, four-plexes or other multi-unit projects.
At that time, Community Development Director Kaleb Kentner said that because the commission wants to bring new businesses into the city, the necessity for affordable housing to meet the demands for population growth is a major concern.
This program has worked in Dodge City, where there are the same issues in terms of new home construction and low rental vacancies. A developer utilized the RHID program there to build the Reserves at Cimarron Valley, a 32-unit apartment complex, which is already full and as of this summer had a waiting list of 200.
Brett Johnson, partner with the developer Overland Property Group, which built the "Reserves at Cimarron Valley," said that he expects the same results at a 32-unit housing complex, "Reserves at Prairie Ridge," to be located at 3301 Campus Drive in Garden City. The company recently broke ground on the project and construction is expected to be complete by June 2012.
Another program, which has not proven to entice developers into building as much as hoped, is the Neighborhood Revitalization Project, a tax rebate program.
"That program is really targeted at home buyers and commercial developers," Kentner said.
With the commission's most recent neighborhood development incentive program proposal being unanimously defeated, they are back to the drawing board. The proposal, which would have meant a $2.50 addition to utility customers' bills, was aimed toward stimulating residential development by having the city carry the burden of costs associated with developing the utility infrastructure on new lots, including electricity, water and sewer. In addition to burdening the cost of utility infrastructure, the proposed Neighborhood Development Incentive Program would provide cash incentives to developers.
Several residents made their opinions known about the proposal in the Nov. 29 city commission meeting. Despite the fact that the flat fee could generate $325,000 to $350,000 in a year, which could cover infrastructure costs for a 30- to 35-lot subdivision, resident Karen Livingston said she already is feeling the sting of the economic crunch and would not support the additional fee to her utility bill.
Commissioner Dan Fankhauser said he thought it was a better solution than increasing the mill levy on property taxes, since the flat fee would have spread the cost among all residents, rather than just property owners.
Doll said that after obtaining feedback from the community and reviewing the proposal, it was decided that it either needs to be revised or alternative proposals would be needed.
"We asked the staff to come up with some other proposals. Doing nothing is an alternative ... people say we should forget about it all together and let the free market system work itself out," Doll said. "The staff is going to come up with some other proposals. We gave them direction to come up with some more plans we could go through. Something needs to be done to get the housing market going because it spurs the economy."