City of Washington

A subcommittee comprised of city employees, realtors, bankers, developers and engineers met to discuss work force housing, lot sizes, street widths and the impact changing codes would have on the city.

“One of the things that continues to be brought up is that when we made the changes to 10,000 square feet for our lot sizes, that was kind of a beginning of a change in housing in our community,” Mayor Sandy Lucy said at the beginning of the meeting Tuesday.

“Now that the economy is not what it was (back) then, that is really hampering us on future development,” she said.

Others in attendance included Darren Lamb, community and economic development director; Tom Holdmeier, planning and zoning; Jim Briggs, city administrator; Dan Boyce, city engineer;

Brian Boehmer, assistant city administrator; Sharon Monzyk, Franklin Mortgage; Ray Frankenberg II, BFA, an engineering firm; Jim Wilson, builder/developer; Carol Haddox, realtor with Coldwell Banker Premier; and Allen Whitworth, contractor.

Based on census data with the profile of the general population and housing characteristics, which was passed out during the meeting, Washington and the 63090 ZIP code had higher per household and average income levels than Union and the 63084 ZIP code.

“What Washington needs to grow, I feel, is to get some ground and put smaller homes on it,” Wilson said.

Other discussions centered around quality of the homes, possible locations to fill in with smaller homes and whether the developers would pass on savings if they build smaller, more inexpensive homes.

Bankers explained mortgage rates, government subsidized loans and other aspects of getting a home loan.

During planning and zoning meetings, Cameron Lueken with Wunderlich Surveying & Engineering, has pointed out that the city has been allowing 6,000-square-foot lots for awhile, because duplexes can be built on 12,000-square-foot lots.

“What he’s proposing is to eliminate the common wall and put 10 to 14 feet between them. To me, that’s not going backward. That’s a better option than building duplexes,” said Boyce.

The group agreed that people want smaller lot sizes and don’t have choices in Washington.

Briggs pointed out that some communities have gone to using incentives for new home development, such as tax incentives. Others have used community block grants.

To get those grants, however, a community has to have low to moderate income levels and Washington historically has not met that criteria.

Lots for Sale

There are a total of 168 lots for sale in the Washington School District.

“I think the reason people aren’t building on them is the requirement for a good majority of these lots are for these big homes that put it at a price point that’s probably going to be over $250,000,” Haddox said.

Monzyk and Haddox agreed that there is a market for nice, newer homes in the $150,000 to $250,000 price range.

“You can get resale for that price, but you can’t get much for new construction,” Haddox said.

Whitworth expressed concern about putting 6,000- square-foot lots on the same street as much larger lots.

Some said 6,000 square feet seems low, and maybe 7,500 square feet would be more appropriate. Another suggestion was to allow 6,000-square-foot lots, but require an average of 7,500 square feet in developments.

“If you build a smaller house in Washington, it sells right away,” Wilson said, citing several examples. “If I could buy some land and put a subdivision in with smaller homes, 1,000 to 1,200 square feet, (they would sell quickly).”

But a $150,000 house can’t be built on a $60,000 lot, he said. “Absolutely not,” he said.

The group agreed that part of the problem is land prices.

Street Widths

The group also discussed street right-of-way standards.

Doing preliminary math on how much narrower streets would save those building new homes, the general consensus was that the cost to the homeowner wasn’t significant enough to consider narrower streets.

City employees said that the fire department is concerned about narrower streets because of the size of their equipment.

In some cases, if cars were parked on both sides of the street, there would be very little space to open the vehicle’s doors — which poses safety risks.

A pumper truck is 8 feet wide. With the doors open, it will be 12 to 14 feet. With hydraulic ladders, the vehicle is 17 feet wide. With an 8-foot-wide car parked on the side, there wouldn’t be a lot of space to operate in an emergency, fire officials say.

Trash trucks and snowplow trucks would face similar size problems, as snowplow trucks are 10-11 feet wide and space is needed to plow snow up against the vehicles.

More firm numbers on the cost savings with narrower streets will be presented at the next meeting, which is set for Tuesday, April 2, at 1:30 p.m., at city hall.