Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Friday, May 16, 2008

"Local developers work to build towns, save schools"

Whitman County's small towns are not agonizing about "sprawl" or "architorture." They just want to survive.

From yesterday's Whitman County Gazette:
While many eyes in the county are focused on the Hawkins’ development and the income it is expected to generate, other developments are popping up on the edges of many small towns in the county. Local residents have been taking on the role of developers to keep their schools viable and strengthen and build their communities.

“We just think we’ve got good options for people here,” said Art Schultheis, co-developer of Southview in Colton.

As a former member of the planning commission, Dale Miller, Uniontown, came to realize the town needed to increase its population. The commission encouraged people to develop and one family started to, but backed away due to costs.

“It’s not cheap to develop land,” he said. Miller noted that since small towns don’t attract developers, locals have to shoulder the load. He is a managing partner of the Rolling Hills development which is located on the land that started to be developed. He said that locals becoming developers in their small towns was an investment in the community.

Miller and Schultheis both noted the need for more houses to keep the school district viable. Schultheis pointed out that the school has the same number of families as when he graduated 25 years ago, but with fewer children per family the enrollment numbers have dropped. The solution is to bring more families into the district which would require more houses.

Paul Hendrickson, Garfield, also realized the need for more housing. As a member of the school board he has seen the number of students dwindle as farms become bigger and the families operating them become smaller. He said that the problem was not that the community was drying up within city limits, but the school district was losing rural families. Rural bus routes that once produced a load of children are no longer taken because there are no children to pick up.

Hendrickson is developing Sunrise Ridge Estates with lots two to six acres each on the 80 acre development. The land was once farm ground, part of which was already within city limits, and was annexed into the city for development. Hendrickson chose to go with the larger lots and have them zoned for large animals.

“We needed alternatives in our housing,” he said. He noted it was difficult to buy only five acres in the county and wanted to increase housing options for people.

“We’re trying to add some growth,” he said. To attract attention, Hendrickson felt smaller communities need a niche to attract new families.

Schultheis also found that to be true. His said the next development plans will include smaller lots for retired people or new homeowners who can’t afford larger homes and/or don’t want to maintain a large yard.

Schultheis has also developed what was once farm land that was already within city limits. In 2003 Schultheis and brother Greg broke ground on the cropland and started putting in lots for a subdivision. Since then 28 lots have been added. At first they sold only lots, but when contacted by buyers who wanted to move into a home, the brothers started to build houses on some of the properties. They are currently building the third house.

Miller noted Uniontown can attract families that commute to different metro areas. He feels the town’s location halfway between the Moscow-Pullman and Lewiston-Clarkston areas makes it a good place for families to split their commute.

The small town appeal for those looking to get out of urban area also works in the small towns’ favors. Miller noted the development could also draw people looking to get into a rural setting, but not have the problems and hassles of living in the country.

“We know we have a really nice little town,” he said.

Despite all the developments, small towns are not about to be inundated with empty lots and houses. The Rolling Hills development has a total of 40 lots on 25 acres, but Miller noted only 15 lots are currently being development with paving and water system installed and other lots will be developed as they sell. He felt the ideal population for Uniontown would be 400 to 600; a number which would support the town and attract business.

Schultheis aims for sales of three or four houses a year, hoping to sell at least one a quarter.

With the increase of families and people, an increase in business is anticipated.

“More people will always influence the community,” said Hendrickson.

Miller also pointed out that more citizens means more people who can volunteer to help out in the community. Each lot that sells also increases the city’s tax revenue with connection fees and property taxes.

“But you’ve got to have people first,” Schultheis said.

EC Hay & Sons is building a development in Tekoa, but could not be reached for comment before press time.


April E. Coggins said...

Also in this week's Gazette was this item:

"County commissioners Monday approved a $50,000 loan from the county’s reserve to the Tekoa Park and Recreation District 6. Treasurer Robert Lothspeich said the money will be used to help finance the town’s swimming pool operation for the upcoming season."

If we want the county to help the smaller towns make themselves more attractive to new residents and developers, Whitman County needs revenue. Pullman and the Corridor are tax revenue generators. The Commissioners intent is to spread the new wealth among the entire county.

Mattwi said...

There is one, almost complete new house in the Union Town development.

That is good.

What may bad though is that Union Town was having water trouble... Not sure if they fixed that yet.

They also have a somewhat small looking water tower.

I know there is word in Colton that our water system is getting a bit of a fixing...