By Karen Butterfield
Missourian Staff Writer
An ad hoc committee will be formed to research lot sizes, street widths, home values and other factors that could be affecting the growth of Washington.
The planning and zoning board Monday night further discussed “market housing” in Washington as growth in both Union and Marthasville outpaced Washington during the last census period.
Washington’s population grew by 5.58 percent from 2000 to 2010 compared to 31.55 percent in Union and 35.72 percent in Marthasville.
City Administrator Jim Briggs attributes some of Union’s growth to its aggressive annexation over the past several years.
“If we were similarly aggressive, maybe the population differentials wouldn’t be (as large),” he said, noting that he’s not suggesting aggressive annexation, just noting the difference between the cities.
Dan Boyce, city engineer, talked about code changes that could accomplish the goal of attracting families to Washington.
“We could revise the R-1B minimum lot size to something smaller than 10,000 square feet and leave it there, like it was in the early ’90s,” he said.
Boyce said the city could add some type of building restrictions, such as type of allowable siding, minimum square footage of the buildings or requiring mandatory attached garages.
Another option, he said, is allowing single-family lots to be 6,000 square-feet in an R-4 code, but requiring developers to bring a plan before the committee before proposing a subdivision.
Cameron Lueken with Wunderlich Surveying and Engineering said if there were architectural controls it would need to be in a new zoning classification, such as R-1D.
Lueken made a presentation to commission members last month. He reiterated his points to the board, some of whom were absent from last month’s meeting.
Factors that affect the cost of housing include: raw ground cost, lot sizes, infrastructure costs, street pavement widths and demand, Lueken said.
“Under what parameters do you want to see raw ground developed in your city?” Lueken asked board members.
Mark Piontek, city attorney, questioned what the board was trying to accomplish by reducing lot sizes and asked why the small growth was a problem.
Lueken asked if Washington wanted its work force to drive from Union or Marthasville rather than live in town.
“I would say that’s not a good thing,” Lueken said. “There are amenities here that are in Washington that are not in Marthasville or Union. But, the reason those amenities are here, likely, is because of the population base. That’s the reason why those amenities came here in the first place.”
Piontek said there is no evidence that people are not moving to Washington solely because of lot sizes or the price of homes. More houses, he said, creates more of a demand for raw ground and prices will still be higher.
Also, he said, there is no guarantee that any savings a contractor receives by building smaller homes will be passed on to home buyers.
Piontek went on to question where the 6,000 square foot figure was determined and asked why that would be better than 7,500 square feet.
Other board members pointed out that they have been approving 6,000-square-foot homes for years, because duplexes are built on 12,000-square-foot lots, or 6,000 per unit.
“The demand is here in town and you can not get a 6,000-square-foot lot (in town),” said Tom Holdmeier, commissioner. “We looked at all these duplexes being built on 12,000-square-foot lots and we want to get away from that. So why not separate those and put them on two 6,000-square-foot lots?”
Board members tried to pinpoint when lot sizes became a problem.
Lueken noted that the trend to buy homes in other communities isn’t new.
“Even when money was great, people were making these choices (to buy homes in neighboring towns),” he said.
Boyce said contractors have told him they would never consider building in Washington because of lot sizes.
Can’t Afford Homes
John Borgmann, board member, said his gauge is police officers, and said there are police officers who can’t afford a home in the town in which they work with the salary they make.
“I think that’s where we are now,” he said. “Any new family starting out and trying to make that first step, it’s challenging for them to find a good starter home.”
Borgmann said it’s important to keep young families in Washington.
Piontek questioned what happens to older homes when the new homes are built.
“Right now those are the options for starter homes,” he said.
Piontek said he doesn’t even understand the definition of work force housing, or market housing.
“Those are nice interesting terms, but they’re subject to all sorts of definitions,” he said, adding that he wants the board to understand what they are trying to accomplish and gear responses to what they’re trying to do.
“It’s a fact that there are more houses being built in Union and Marthasville,” Piontek said. “The why is unknown. There isn’t anybody who can give definitive proof as to why that’s occurring.”
Washington Mayor Sandy Lucy said she wasn’t sold on 6,000-square-foot lot sizes and wanted to explore options.
The board also discussed street widths.
Washington subdivision codes require 35-foot-wide streets compared to 28 feet in Union, 30 feet in Pacific and 26 feet in O’Fallon. Street widths increases the cost to develop a subdivision resulting in higher housing costs.
“There is no place in Franklin County more expensive to build a street,” Lueken said, adding that higher standards are good, but they increase costs to build in town.
Lueken noted that Washington is able to have higher standards partly because sales tax per capita is higher than in neighboring towns.
The ad hoc committee, once formed, will be tasked with looking at the census numbers, getting input from realtors, finding average lot sizes and other additional information to continue the discussion.
It will be composed of bankers, builders, engineers, real estate agents and others. Tom Holdmeier, John Borgmann and Greg Skornia volunteered to be on the adhoc committee.