City as developer

City officials estimate that Storm Lake is 400 to 500 housing units short to fill a growing need for its largely blue-collar workforce. The city has had good fortune in attracting developers who use federal tax credits to develop apartment buildings for low-income renters. One such project is going up and another is about to. We are resigned to that reality even though we do not like tax-subsidized projects that can end up as mini-ghettos owned by foreign corporations.

Storm Lake is better served by more single-family housing, where the occupants are the owners.

Owning a home is the capstone of the American Dream. It is an important driver in civic engagement, wealth creation and preservation, and in building the esteem that comes from the pride of ownership. It’s all good.

Storm Lake has not seen the same sort of home development that our neighbors in Carroll, Spencer and Spirit Lake have even though our population and manufacturing output are greater. We applaud Ben Friesen for taking the risk in building new spec homes for sale on the east side of town. But that’s about it for new development.

The slow pace of single-family home construction inside the city tells us that our working-class income cannot sustain much more home ownership. There are risk takers here, it’s just that they know they could go broke on the come.

The late Chet Brecher developed West Lake Estates inside the city limits. It took decades. He often noted that the costs of development — installing streets, curb and gutter and other infrastructure — made it too difficult to develop affordable lots in town. He was able to essentially saturate the market with middle- to upper-middle income homes, which freed up other homes in town for those with lesser incomes.

It is against this broad backdrop that the City of Storm Lake may get into the lot development business.

The city found 12 acres owned by David and Ruth Peterson, part of which is needed for storm water runoff control north of Storm Lake High School on 13th Street extended. The city only needed three acres for its stormwater purposes. Real estate man Steve Brashears was interested in buying the other nine acres to develop lots. For whatever reason, it didn’t work out between the city and Brashears, but he wishes the city all the best.

City Manager Jim Patrick told us this week that the city might develop that other nine acres itself for single-family housing.

Who could object?

We need the housing. We especially need newer single-family homes to build Storm Lake the right way.

Developers are not in the mood to take on a big speculative project.

The city can develop at a lower cost than a private party, probably, since it already is in the infrastructure development game at this particular location. It has helped to develop residential property around the Field of Dreams by chipping in on infrastucture (paving 10th Street, for example) and buying property for resale to multi-family housing developers. So the city actually is already in the development business.

It sounds as if the city would prefer that a private party develop the extraneous nine acres. Patrick said the city intends to sit on the land for awhile until a plan gels. That sounds like the city is advertising for another developer to step in.

If no one bites, the city should proceed with development on single-family housing lots.

The city will get more taxable property. The working class gets a shot at owning a home as newer structures free up older, less expensive homes to the market.

Not everyone is in position to own a home. There is nothing wrong with renting. It’s just that home ownership is widely considered desirable for the family and the community. Storm Lake needs a lot more of it. The pace will remain slow until somebody steps up and breaks the ice. That somebody appears to be the Storm Lake City Council.

 

Also, a gold star goes to city staff for abandoning a proposal to rezone Lighthouse Drive, between Methodist Manor and Buena Vista University, from residential to institutional. The residents objected to the Planning and Zoning Commission. Staff and commissioners took their concerns to heart and listened. Once again, democracy works in Storm Lake because people stood up and claimed the process.