HURON — A large crowd attended the town hall meeting on next week’s special referendum election, held Tuesday night at the Huron Event Center.
The meeting was planned to offer a chance for sides on both sides of the issue, the rezoning of a section of the Southtown section of Huron.
Those opposed to the rezoning were not in attendance, however.
“We attempted several times to reach out to the ‘no’ people,” said Mike Held, who moderated the meeting, “but we were not successful in having them here tonight.”
Instead, Joe Carr and Rich Bragg made a Power Point presentation about the proposed WheatGrass Village apartment and townhouse housing development, then opened the floor to questions.
Steve Boote, the owner of Eagle Construction, the company proposing to build WheatGrass Village, was on hand and also helped answer questions about specifics of the project.
Carr noted that a total of 81 units - 12 deluxe townhouses and 69 middle-income apartments - are planned for Phase I of the project, which is set to be built on the corner of Idaho Ave., and 24th Street in the southeast Huron development.
Huron resident Jeff Paye commented that he defends the people who circulated the petition, to exercise their constitutional right to do what they did.
Paye also questioned if there were guidelines for the capacity of the proposed units.
Boote said that those numbers were available, but he didn’t have them with him. “We work with a Sioux Falls company, Costello Property Management, on all our properties,” he said. “They have guidelines and renters go through an application process. The number of people allowed in an apartment will be based on the number of bedrooms.”
Boote said that a one-bedroom hotel room may be able to house a maximum of three people. “It is going to be similar to that type of number.”
Paye also asked about how the Tax Increment Financing or TIFm being used to pay for infrastructure in the area east of Idaho Avenue and south of 21st Street was paid for.
City Planner Ralph Borkowski said it was a complicated process, but explained that a TIF was a funding mechanism that assists in infrastructure development.
“We start with a baseline,” Borkowski said. “That is what the taxes were on the land when the TIF district began. When houses, or apartments are built in the area, the value of those improvements increase the property taxes and it is from those additional tax receipts that the TIF is repaid to the city and the developer.”
Borkowski noted that the city will add water, sewer, storm sewer, curb and gutter and asphalt in five specific areas. He added that certain infrastructure costs may be paid back to Eagle Construction as well.
There were questions as to what the income level of the proposed renters would be.
Amy Bennett specifically asked what ‘middle income’ was in the equation.
Carr said that middle income varied from $25,000 up to $350,000, depending on what part of the country a person lived.
Boote said that his company has done extensive research on incomes in the Huron area, and it is his intent to have no more than 35 percent of a person’s annual income be dedicated to rent.
“So you could figure that a one-bedroom is $600 per month and do the math from there to determine what middle income is I guess.”
Boote said that it is his company’s goal to have 95 percent of the units leased within seven months of completion. “In Yankton, we were 100 percent leased in that time frame and there is a waiting list now.”
He added that since that similar housing in Yankton had spurred construction in the area. “Right now, there are 33 houses either built or in the process adjacent to our project. If this is built here, I promise that there will be more building taking place.”
Greater Huron Development Corporation executive dirctor Jim Borszich responded to a question about what happens to the project if the no vote carries next week’s election.
“Well, putting it plainly, it all goes away without the TIF,” he said. “There is simply not enough revenue in the area to move forward without the TIF and the only way that the TIF works is with a projet like WheatGrass Village.
Bragg noted that the referendum election is specifically about the rezoning of the property, which is common.
“Since 2000 in Huron more than 50 different projects have been rezoned,” Bragg said. “The Southtown development itself has seen several rezoning changes.”
Huron mayor Paul Aylward said that the city’s process for the rezoning of the property went quickly, but that the city had followed the law and was as transparent as possible with the process.
Carr said he recently heard a report that stated that adequate and proper housing is one of the most important things that can be done to attract workers to an area.
“There are 488 job openings in Huron right now,” he said, “with anouther 300 jobs expected to be developed by 2018. Those people are going to need places to live.”
Boote said that construction is set to begin “weeks” after the election. Construction is expected to take up to 10 months.
In response to a question about what happens if the units are not all leased, Boote said the research his company does before starting says that response will be positive.
“We study the markets and have a solid base of investors,” he said. “We are sure enough of this that we are willing to borrow $6 million and put up $2 million in cash. We couldn’t borrow that kind of money if we didn’t have a good track record of knowing what we are doing.”