The Seward City Council will look into proposals that the city chip in when developers extend utilities into new subdivisions. A work session on the subject brought a number of citizens, including developers and dealers in Seward’s real estate market, for a wide-ranging conversation that concluded with the council seeking additional information from the city’s administration.
The council has heard from a handful of developers at recent meetings who have suggested that the city split the cost of building water, sewer and electric infrastructure, assets that the city code generally requires developers to install, but ownership of which reverts to the city.
The cost of installing these utilities – which must be in place before developers may sell properties in most new subdivisions – is a major barrier to further development, according to remarks by City Planner Jackie Wilde and other attendees.
“That cost is still there,” said Larry Harmon. “Unless the city is going to help in the development, it’s not going to happen. Unless the city is going to help with these line extensions, we’re going to have vacant lots around Seward.”
The city code already allows for some arrangements to be made between the city and developers to mitigate up front installation costs. The code allows developers to petition the city for an assessment district, which allows the city to front part of the installation cost and recoup it when the properties sell, effectively loaning money to the developer.
The discussion comes as organizations around town voice concern about the dwindling availability of housing in Seward. The council heard last month from Providence Health & Services Alaska that a housing shortage made staffing difficult for the hospital and long-term care facility.
Christine Sheehan, executive director of Seaview Community Services, told the council Tuesday that her organization had sometimes struggled to keep new hires because of the cost and difficulty of finding housing.
“We don’t pay wages that people will be able to afford a housing [in Seward],” Sheehan said. “It’s two-pronged: there’s not a sufficient amount of housing and the cost is too high. Some people will back out because they can’t find housing.”
Asked what staff could likely afford, she said, “I’d say it’s got to be under $1,000 a month” including utilities.
“Who’s going to build a house or apartment building where someone can rent for $750 a month,” Ristine Casagranda asked, subtracting an estimate from utilities from the number given by Sheehan.
Phil Zimmerman’s hand shot up.
“I will,” he said. “I’ll build a four-plex and pay the utilities and rent the units for $750 a month.”