By LeAnn R. Ralph
COLFAX — It is no secret that over the last 50 years, the population in Colfax has not increased very much.
Part of the problem now is that there are no residential lots available for people to build new houses.
The Colfax Plan Commission discussed the issue of housing as part of updating the comprehensive land use plan at the August 7 meeting.
“Vacant land seems to be the main issue in the community that is holding back growth and residential development,” said Patrick Beilfuss of Cedar Corporation, who has been hired by the village board to help the plan commission update the comprehensive plan.
State law requires that comprehensive plans be updated every ten years. The village’s existing comprehensive plan was approved in 2002.
In Colfax, 15 percent of the houses have been built in the last 30 years. Closer to the Minnesota border, 50 percent of the houses have been built in the last 30 years, Beilfuss said.
In Colfax, 32 percent of the houses were built before 1939, he said.
“Over the last few years, there’s been no place to build,” said Dave Hovre, plan commission member.
According to statistics included in the proposed housing chapter of the comprehensive plan, from 2005 to 2011, nine homes were built in the village; from 2000 to 2004, only two houses were built.
During the 1990s, 32 houses were built. In the 1980s, there were 29 houses built. The 1970s included 66 new houses. The 1960s included 72 houses. The 1950s included 80 houses. During the 1940s, 36 houses were built in Colfax. Before 1939, 156 houses were built.
Scott Gunnufson, village president and chair of the plan commission, noted that many of the houses built in the 1950s may have been built after the tornado in 1958.
Older houses can provide a good opportunity for first-time home buyers because they are less expensive, Beilfuss said.
On the other hand, many of the older houses in Colfax may be in need of repair or upgrades, and because many of the residents are older, it may be harder to maintain those homes, he said.
Grant programs, such as Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), are particularly important to Colfax, although with budget cuts and other changes to the programs, those funds will be increasingly difficult to obtain, Beilfuss said.
One bright note is that Colfax has more homeowners than it does renters.
According to statistics in the proposed housing chapter, 70 percent of the homes in Colfax are owner-occupied, while just short of 30 percent are renter-occupied.
In most communities, 60 percent of the houses are owner-occupied, although in Menomonie, only 40 percent of the homes are owner-occupied because of the number of student rental units, Beilfuss said.
Gunnufson said he had talked to a real estate developer a few weeks ago, who had said if land were available in Colfax, developers would be most interested in building rental units rather than single-family homes.
Gunnufson wondered about the Village of Colfax acquiring land for housing development.
Communities typically buy land for commercial or industrial development but not for housing, Beilfuss said.
Colfax could establish a mixed-use Tax Increment Financing District (TIF) that would allow up to 35 percent of the district to be residential, he said.
In addition to mixed-use TIFs, there are industrial TIFs (51 percent must be zoned and suitable for industrial development); environmental TIFs; and blighted TIFs (commercial redevelopment), Beilfuss explained.
Gunnufson wondered about the county’s gravel pit north of town and whether it might qualify for an environmental TIF.
Since the gravel pit is in a flood plain, could it be used for fishing, camping and biking? he asked.
Beilfuss said he would research the environmental TIF and would bring information back to the plan commission.
The village could buy land that is outside a TIF district, but the village would have better funding within a TIF mechanism, he said, noting that the village would have the ability to modify existing TIFs and could buy land and expand a TIF to include the additional property.
The Colfax Plan Commission meets next on Tuesday, September 10, at 6:30 p.m. in the village hall.