Should government fund infrastructure to jump-start development?

Chamber of Commerce panelists discuss challenges around construction

Wilson Gulch Road, which runs from the Grandview Interchange to Mercy Regional Medical Center, opened in October. It is one example of infrastructure paid for by government that some say is beneficial to jump starting development. Enlarge photo

Jerry McBride/Durango Herald

Wilson Gulch Road, which runs from the Grandview Interchange to Mercy Regional Medical Center, opened in October. It is one example of infrastructure paid for by government that some say is beneficial to jump starting development.

Greater predictability in development, more density, and public-private partnerships could encourage construction throughout La Plata County, experts said Wednesday at a Durango Chamber of Commerce meeting.

While making housing developers pay for the infrastructure, such as water, sewer and roads works well in the big city, it’s driving up the cost of homes in this area, some panelists said. Encouraging affordable housing could require public funding to help curb costs, they said.

“There’s not much on the horizon because of how much it requires to get going,” Tom Gorton, with Highlands Holding Corp., said of housing projects.

Light industrial and warehouse space is what the county needs more than any other development, Bob Allen, a real estate consultant said.

But if someone were to build new warehouse space with associated infrastructure, the developer would need to charge above-market rates to recover the initial investment, said Roger Zalneraitis, La Plata County Economic Development Alliance, in an interview.

Similar to residential development, government investment in infrastructure for commercial projects would make them more viable. Local governments would also see long-term property tax revenue from those projects, he said.

Local governments have invested in infrastructure for other projects, including extending a waterline down La Posta Road (County Road 213) to the Animas Air Park, and worked with La Plata County and other partners to build Wilson Gulch Road, Zalneraitis said.

“Those are the things that are very helpful to make development happen,” he said.

Panelists also generally agreed zoning in the county, which would give developers more surety about their projects, could encourage development.

“We have to make those processes simpler and easier,” developer Gene Fisher said.

The county’s current system also includes criteria that are difficult to interpret, Gorton said.

More definitive plans for the Grandview area could also help encourage development, he said. Grandview is a patchwork of city and county land, and, as a result, property owners need to meet transitional area development standards in case the city annexes the property, but annexation is not guaranteed, he said.

The panelists also talked about the benefits of greater density. Building taller buildings with mixed uses has been a popular topic among city officials for a few years as a strategy to encourage affordable housing and take advantage of existing infrastructure.

Ann Christensen with DHM Design presented renderings that showed how the Camino del Rio corridor, with its many parking lots, could be transformed by multistory buildings. The plans include medians that could help the busy corridor become more visually appealing and inviting to pedestrians.

The city has contracted with DHM to help craft a character vision for the neighborhood.

Christensen described the images as a tool to attract developers interested in the city’s vision. But it’s a transformation that will require many projects over time, she said.

mshinn@durangoherald.com

Bob Allen, a real estate consultant, addresses the crowd during an event held by the Chamber of Commerce focused on the question “Which comes first ... the developer or the infrastructure?” People involved in construction and economic development explained some of the benefits of investing in infrastructure to attract business and bring down the cost of development. Enlarge photo

Mary Shinn/Durango Herald

Bob Allen, a real estate consultant, addresses the crowd during an event held by the Chamber of Commerce focused on the question “Which comes first ... the developer or the infrastructure?” People involved in construction and economic development explained some of the benefits of investing in infrastructure to attract business and bring down the cost of development.

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