Skin in the game

You can’t fault Storm Lake for lack of trying. The city has been trying for years to incent developers to build more housing in The City Beautiful. We have two new apartment complexes in town, thanks to the city’s assistance. The school board has benefited from two presentations on what to do with South School by developers sent the school’s way by City Hall. Sometimes proposals work, sometimes not.

One of the more interesting things the city has done: turning a storm water filtering and retention project into a residential housing plat. The city bought several acres around an area where a retention pond will be built. City officials figured they might as well plat the rest of the land to see if some new housing could sprout.

Along comes Will Nelson of Stonecreek Development in Geneva, Ill., a suburb of Chicago. On Monday he suggested that the city allow him to market 24 housing units, half in duplexes and half in single-family homes, we are led to understand. That’s a big project for Storm Lake.

It is not clear to us, or perhaps the city, what the nature of this partnership is.

It does not sound as if Nelson will buy the land from the city, as a developer typically would. It sounds more like he would like to market a housing concept on the city’s behalf and get paid for it. Nelson might be a great salesman. Great salesmen already exist in the Storm Lake real estate market. Give them a picture, and they will sell it.

Nelson said he would not build spec homes. He will present a floor plan to a prospective buyer. If the buyer wants to build, Nelson will arrange for construction. Again, there are local concerns that could do the same thing if the city asks them to.

If Nelson wants exclusive development rights, he needs to invest something more than a good idea. Cash is a sure way to be first in line.

The council could help Nelson by discounting the land price, or throwing in some development costs such as sewer, curb and gutter. Nelson can prove his credibility with a check or bank wire transfer.

Otherwise, the city could expand the construction trades education program by building the housing itself, with marketing from a local Realtor. That’s how it has worked on the former site of West School. Houses are moving.

Storm Lake is not exactly fending off developers. That’s because rural Iowa remains a risk for housing development, even here with strong demand and tight supply. The city already has assumed most of the risk by buying and platting the property. It either needs to sell the property for residential housing, or develop the property using local expertise that truly understand this market. Nelson should be thanked for providing his insight. But if the city wants a marketing agent to make people aware of the fantastic lots, we have an effective advertising program at attractive rates. We’re just short on discretionary capital.

We believe but don’t act

About — and we mean about — 65% of Buena Vista Countians believe climate change is happening, according to the Yale Project on Climate Change’s opinion survey released this week. About 48% of us believe that global warming is created by human activity. These attitudes track with national survey results. Yale notes that county-level surveys are based on a national statistical model and not on actual survey data collection in Buena Vista County. The margin for error in the survey at the county level is ±8%; at the state level it is ±5%.

The survey goes on to note that 45% of us are not worried about climate change; 53% do not believe it will affect them personally. They might not know that rising almond prices are directly related to drought in California, or that climate change leads to volatile weather than can send mud rushes into Storm Lake.

Sixty-three percent believe climate change will affect future generations.

Further, BV’ers and Iowans believe in funding renewable energy research, regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant and creating a state renewable fuel portfolio that would supply 20% of the state’s power needs. But we don’t like taxes of any sort, including one on carbon emissions, and we don’t much like subsidies for renewable energy. Apparently, we do believe in regulation to protect our air and water. Seventy-four percent of residents from the Fourth Congressional District believe in “strict” regulation of CO2 as a pollutant. It would seem reasonable to infer, then, that nitrates in water would be viewed similarly.

Our politics does not reflect our attitudes. Iowa’s renewable portfolio is set at 2% of total electricity generated, not 20%. Rep. Steve King is not exactly pushing the idea of strictly limiting fossil fuel consumption and emissions. The data suggest that we do not care enough about climate change to vote on it.