Mayor says community must reach consensus on sharing costs
Two years of study reveal it costs about $9,000 to provide streets, water, sewer, parks and trails for each new home in new areas of Lincoln, Mayor Don Wesely said Thursday. The figure was the result of work done by City of Lincoln Departments in conjunction with Duncan Associates of Austin Texas.
"Growth is good, but it can be expensive," Mayor Wesely said. "While the community as a whole benefits from growth, we need to ensure that established areas don't bear an undue burden for the cost, that growth pays its fair share and that developers are treated equitably."
Detailed information about the cost of growth will be available at a public meeting from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 19 at Lux Middle School, 7800 High Street. At Tuesday's meeting, a proposed city Infrastructure Financing Strategy will be unveiled. That strategy would redistribute the cost of growth between new developments and the rest of the community. The meeting will be videotaped by 5 CITY-TV, the government access channel, and aired on cable channel 5.
In Lincoln, growth costs related to streets, water, sewer, parks and trails traditionally have been negotiated on a case-by-case basis between the City and the developer. Some of this $9,000 cost already is being paid for through these individual negotiations.
Mayor Wesely said the current system draws complaints from developers that it is inconsistent and unfair. He said it also causes concern in established areas that the City pays too much of the cost for growth, thus reducing the money available to maintain aging streets, sewer, water, parks and trails. Developers and groups representing established neighborhoods and business districts have called for the City to devise a fairer system to pay for new growth.
To address the fairness issue, the City hired Duncan Associates, one of the nation's leading urban planning firms, to complete a comprehensive review of how Lincoln pays for growth. Beginning in June 2000, Duncan worked with a group of homeowners and business people to examine the cost and financing of everything from roads and sewers to parks and water lines.
"This is really a simple matter of treating everyone fairly," Wesely said. "For several years now, there has been a growing feeling in Lincoln that growth should pay its fair share. Many people had strong opinions about what that means, but there were few facts. Duncan Associates provided excellent help in sorting it out."
Mayor Wesely said the cost of maintaining infrastructure in established neighborhoods and business districts continues to rise. Meanwhile, new areas need streets, sewer, water lines, parks and trails to be built. The demand in new and established areas produces a growing gap between the money the City has and the money needed to meet the demand that cannot be resolved by the current ‘negotiated' way of doing business, Wesely said.
The $9,000 provides the infrastructure for one new single-family house built in Lincoln, according to the study. For each apartment unit, the cost is about $7,600. For industrial and commercial space, the cost ranges from $38,000 to $50,000 for each 10,000 square feet. These costs exist today, Wesely said. Under the current system, the cost of growth is shared by the existing city and the new growth itself.
"This is the right time to talk about everyone=s fair share," Wesely said. "The City is and will continue to talk with developers and those in established commercial and residential areas to reach consensus on everyone paying their fair share. With hearings just beginning on the new proposed Comprehensive Plan for Lincoln and Lancaster County, the entire community must come to an agreement on the amount of growth we expect to have, our ability to pay for growth and how the cost is shared. This is a critically important discussion about our future."
Hearings on the Comprehensive Plan began Wednesday, March 13 before the Lincoln-Lancaster Planning Commission, which will take more testimony beginning at 1 p.m. Wednesday, March 27. The City Council and the Lancaster County Board will have joint hearings on the Comprehensive Plan May 8 and 22, with final approval scheduled for the end of May.