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By LeAnn R. Ralph
COLFAX — Since the Village of Colfax has had limited success in giving away lots in the East View Residential Community, the Colfax Plan Commission is recommending several changes to the requirements to make the lots more attractive.
The issues discussed at a meeting of the Colfax Plan Commission August 27 included the assessed value of the finished house being at least $175,000, the requirement that a minimum of four trees be planted and the prohibition on using vinyl siding, imitation brick or metal siding.
While the Village of Colfax has received many inquiries about the lots and requests for packets of information, only one house has been built on the village-owned lots along Dunn Street on the south side of Colfax.
Instead of $175,000, the assessed value of the completed home could be listed as not less than $160,000, since $175,000 includes the value of the lot, said Lynn Niggemann, village administrator-clerk-treasurer.
The minimum assessed value of the houses was established at $175,000 so that the property taxes generated would be enough to pay for the lots purchased from the Jim and Mary Schindler farm.
“Is that what’s scaring people off?” asked Mike Buchner, plan commission member.
Niggemann said she believed people were hesitating to build on the lots because of a combination of factors, including the assessed value, but also the prohibition on certain exterior materials and the amount of property taxes that would be paid once a house is built.
Small towns in rural Wisconsin tend to have higher property tax rates than larger municipalities because small towns do not have the industrial and commercial tax base to help pay for infrastructure, such as streets and sewer and water utilities, and to help pay for the employees needed to supply services to residents.
The Colfax Village Board approved purchasing the land for East View several years ago to achieve two goals: to increase the tax base in the village and to provide residential lots since there were no lots available in town that could be used to build new houses.
The village is giving a $15,000 lot for free, so if someone has no equity in a house or no down payment, he or she can use the lot for a down payment, Niggemann said.
Buchner wondered about the construction cost to produce a house with an assessed value of $175,000.
The cost to build a house with that amount of assessed value is about $200,000, said Scott Gunnufson, village president and chair of the plan commission.
The construction cost in Colfax might be around $110 per square foot, while the construction cost in Eau Claire or Menomonie might be $130 to $140 per square foot, he noted.
A minimum size for a house of that assessed value would be around 1,600 square feet, which would provide enough room for three 12×12 square-foot bedrooms with an open floor plan for the rest of the house, Gunnufson said.
People tend to want to build a house “as cheap as possible,” he said, adding that people think they are saving money by installing vinyl siding, but it only takes one hail storm to wipe out any savings.
“People get hung up on what you tell them,” said Rand Bates, director of public works.
People pick up packets for East View, then they see “that they are telling me what to do,” he said.
Bates said in his opinion, it would be better to “give people some leeway.”
Chad Berge, plan commission member, suggested allowing people to develop the plans for a house, to bring the plans to the plan commission for review and to scrap the section of the developer’s agreement pertaining to exterior building materials.
The section in question reads, “The Developer guarantees the building materials for the exterior of the home shall be brick, natural stone, wood clapboard, wood shingle, fiber cement siding, or engineered wood siding. Vinyl siding, imitation brick, or metal siding is prohibited.”
If not allowing vinyl siding is what is keeping people from building houses in East View, then people should be allowed to use vinyl siding and if it suffers hail damage, “let their insurance company pay for it,” said Jason Johnson, plan commission member.
“I would like to see a nicer exterior but …” Johnson said.
“ … it would be nice to see houses there, too … If vinyl is the biggest hang-up — fine. Let them get vinyl,” Buchner said..
This may be a case of “perfect is the enemy of progress,” said Logan Michels, plan commission member.
Gunnufson suggested removing the section on the developer’s agreement guaranteeing the building materials and substituting a section that approval of the plans would be based on a review by the plan commission.
The developer’s agreement also states, “the Developer agrees to plant and establish a lawn using sod or grass seed. A minimum of four (4) trees must be planted on the property. The trees must be species recommended by the Village of Colfax. Each tree shall be a minimum 1.5 inches in diameter. Trees cannot be planted in utility easements.”
“What is magic about four trees?” Berge asked.
The idea was to get some foliage in East View and give character to the development, Gunnufson said.
The lots in East View are not large, so four trees in 20 years will take up a substantial amount of room on the lots, Berge said.
Big trees also are expensive to cut down, he said, adding that perhaps a better idea would be to require one tree and let the homeowners decide if they want more.
“It’s less restrictive that way,” Berge said.
Michels said he had talked to several Colfax residents who had wondered if trees could be planted on the lots now to make them more attractive.
Trees would get in the way of construction vehicles, such as cement trucks and trucks hauling rafters, Bates said.
“It’s a good idea, but it’s easy for the trees to get wrecked,” he said.
The developer’s agreement for East View requires driveways to be concrete, asphalt, pavers or flagstone and prohibits gravel driveways.
Several plan commission members wondered if a sidewalk requirement should also be included.
New streets the village has put in over the past several years near Dunn Street and East View have included curb and gutter but no sidewalk, Bates said.
Since none of the other new streets have sidewalks, then sidewalks also should not be in the East View developer’s agreement, he said.
One issue with requiring sidewalks in East View is that the houses will not all be built at the same time so that while one house would have sidewalk, empty lots on either side would not have sidewalk.
Plan commission members decided against including sidewalks in the developer’s agreement.
The Village of Colfax owns the land in what is planned to be Phase I and Phase II of the East View development.
The first six lots in Phase I are planned to be single family homes.
The lots in Phase II are planned to be multi-family homes.
The question facing the plan commission was — should Lot 7 be free to someone wanting to build a duplex?
Plan commission members agreed Lot 7 should be free to someone who plans to build a duplex and the village should pay for “stubbing in” sewer and water to the lot.
Since it is possible development may take place in Phase II at some point in the near future, the Colfax Plan Commission agreed the developer’s agreement should be amended to include multi-family homes.
The Colfax Plan Commission unanimously approved a motion recommending the Colfax Village Board amend the developer’s agreement as discussed — removing the section on exterior materials, bringing plans to the plan commission for review, amending the section on trees to say one or more trees shall be planted on the lot, acknowledging the assessed value of the house will be determined by the village’s assessor, and adding references to multi-family homes — along with offering Lot 7 for free for a duplex with the village providing utility services to the lot.
The Colfax Village Board is expected to consider the plan commission’s recommendations at the board’s next meeting in September.