The completion of the last phase of the Copper Creek housing project will receive $9.2 million in tax increment financing (TIF) with approval Tuesday night by the Grand Island City Council.
But there was opposition as council members brought up the need to develop definite criteria for what is affordable housing and when TIF should be used to subsidize the cost of that housing.
Ray and Sean O’Connor, the developers of the Copper Creek housing development, would like to complete the third phase of the project and build an additional 212 to 216 new homes. The TIF funding would help to pay for the infrastructure of the development. The developers said the new homes would sell for $188,900 to $218,999. The developers said that would be affordable to a family making $22 or more per hour.
The Copper Creek housing development is located south of Old Potash Highway and east of Engleman Road.
In 2013, the Grand Island City Council declared property there blighted and substandard and approved a generalized redevelopment plan for the property. That plan authorized up to 620 new homes within the area. A total of 213 houses were built in Phase 1 of the project.
In 2018 the developer was approved for an additional 80 houses.
The Community Redevelopment Authority reviewed the proposed development plan in September. It then forwarded it to the Hall County Regional Planning Commission, which approved it on Oct. 2. It was then sent to the City Council for final approval.
Before the council’s vote on Tuesday, there was a public hearing, where no opposition was expressed by the public to the proposed building of additional homes at the Copper Creek development. But several council members expressed concerns before the council’s final vote on the project.
The redevelopment plan amendment specifies that the TIF will be used to offset allowed costs for redevelopment for improvements, including the installation of streets, sewer, water, storm sewer, site grading and demolition to develop 20 residential lots.
The cost-benefit analysis included in the plan found that the project meets the statutory requirements for an eligible TIF project and that it will not negatively impact existing services within the community or shift additional costs onto the current residents of Grand Island and the affected school districts. The bond for this project will be issued for 15 years.
During the meeting, the developers were asked whether there was any opposition from the school district. Ray and Sean O’Connor said there was none.
The final council vote was 7-1 in favor of the TIF funding for the project with Councilman Clay Schutz voting against it. Schutz’s opposition was based on what he said is a need for the council to set some criteria when it comes to housing projects before approving them.
That same need for criteria for approving TIF was also expressed by Councilman Mitch Nickerson, who voted for the TIF funding.
Nickerson said the cost for new home development in Grand Island continues to rise. There is a need for affordable housing in Grand Island, but as home costs continue to increase, he wondered what the tipping point would be when it comes how much families can afford to pay for a new home.
The increasing costs of building homes and financing were cited as some of the reasons why housing costs continue to rise. High housing costs also impact property taxes and higher property taxes is a point of contention with many Nebraska property owners.
It was pointed out during the discussion that there is a need for housing in Grand Island. A previous study showed that the community needs about 1,000 new houses to accommodate its continued growth. While affordable housing is a concern, it was also discussed that many of Grand Island’s major businesses and manufacturers need highly skilled and paid workers. Available housing is one of the incentives that help those companies recruit workers to the community.
In other business, the council approved the use of Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) funding for JBS, Grand Island’s largest employer. The approval will help the company to make a $95 million expansion and improvement project.
PACE was established to provide industrial and agricultural property owners a financial incentive to install energy-efficient, renewable and conservation measures. The program allows a property owner to finance the up-front cost of energy or other eligible improvements on a property and then pay the costs back over time through a voluntary assessment.
The Nebraska Legislature passed PACE in 2016, with amendments in 2017 and 2018. Municipalities are authorized to create a PACE program under the statute. Omaha, Lincoln and La Vista have created PACE programs. Grand Island is the fourth municipality to authorize it.
The $95 million JBS expansion project will create a 107,000-square-foot facility. Of the $95 million, $40 million will be eligible for PACE measures.
The project will improve animal handling facilities, temperature-controlled harvest floor. A reconfigured facility designed to enhance employee experience/safety, food safety and product quality will result in energy savings (electricity and gas) and improved water treatment processes.
The construction completion is scheduled for March 2021. Plant operations will continue through construction.
According to JBS officials, PACE will help the plant upgrade to keep it competitive and operational, enabling JBS Grand Island to continue sourcing beef within 150 miles of the plant.
Other benefits to the community include transportation improvements with less staging on streets and more efficient flow of trucks; employee safety as the design of the kill floor has been done with updated employee ergonomics with improved washes and airflow resulting in a safer work environment and food safety; and the temperature-controlled kill floor with centrally controlled heating and air conditioning.
The improvements will allow for higher production output to ensure Grand Island remains the top export plant in the U.S. JBS said 20 percent of the products processed at the plant is shipped to more than 30 countries.
According to JBS officials, the project will help create 150 jobs on-site during its 18-month construction schedule. Much of the work will involve local contractors.
Another benefit of the project is improved animal welfare as Dr. Temple Grandin will be working on the redesign that will include various improvements to the holding pen with a focus on animal comfort.
The council also approved a change of zoning from R4 High-Density Residential to B2 General Business as the owners of 721 West Ninth Street were requesting that the zoning be changed as they own the car lot across the alley to the south and intend to use that building, formerly a beauty salon, as their office.