How to solve an apparent housing shortage issue in Blue Earth was once again the big topic at the City Council's work session last Monday night.
And, because they decided to make it the main topic again at their meeting on Feb. 26, it appears it will continue to be the central focus all year.
On Monday, the discussion continued to be on a possible housing development north of Lampert's Lumber, on 40 acres the city already owns. However, it was not the only location the council looked at.
"One concern that has been expressed about the site (north of Lampert's) is its close proximity to Interstate 90," city administrator Tim Ibisch said. "Some people are concerned about the potential noise from the traffic on I-90."
The housing development would be about 1,080 feet from the freeway at its closest point. But, Ibisch did have some examples of other cities with housing developments even closer to major traffic.
Some houses along I-35 in Faribault are within 275 feet of the freeway, while some homes in Austin are as close as 100 feet from I-90.
The council did not express a lot of concern about the possible noise factor.
Ibisch said another concern is building too large of a development. The one north of Lampert's could have nearly 50 lots and cost up to $3 million. But, the council has discussed doing it in stages, perhaps $1 million at a time.
"We could also eliminate some of the back lots of the project, not develop a side street, and save on costs that way," Ibisch said. He cited the case of the city of Wanamingo, that developed a new housing area 15 years ago and many of the lots remain unsold to this day.
But he also pointed to the city of Worthington, which also has lots of older housing stock but is using an aggressive program to tear down older homes and replace them with newer ones.
A special housing committee has also been exploring other areas in the city, Ibisch reported.
Two of those are land areas south of the city. One is to the southeast of, and owned by, St. Luke's Lutheran Care Center, and another parcel to the east of, and owned by, the River of Life Worship Center.
This area already has nearby city infrastructure including water and sewer, Ibisch pointed out.
Councilman John Huisman again added comments that promoted the need for housing in the community.
"Ideally we should have a developer come to town and we would welcome him wholeheartedly," Huisman said. "But the chances of that happening are not good. So, we need to do things ourselves."
Huisman also suggested using assistance from the Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership, headquartered in Slayton, adding that Larry Anderson, of Frost, is a member of the board of directors of that group.
Ibisch had one more point for the council, dealing with financing a housing project.
"If we do it in stages and stage 1 is about $1.2 million, and part of the project is assessed to future homeowners, then the city's cost would be about $800,000," he said. "If we bond for that, the cost would be about a $63,000 bond payment each year."
Council members questioned Ibisch about the city's debt load. He reported it is at about $18 million, and added he is "comfortable" with that amount.
"I wouldn't want to go a lot higher, in my personal opinion, but that, of course, is up to the council," he said. "But we have some debt that drops off each year."
Ibisch suggested the council could forego on a street and infrastructure reconstruction project for one year, and do a housing development new street and infrastructure project instead.
"Whatever the decision, the council needs to be fairly unified on whatever they decide," he said.
Council members discussed setting some target dates for making a decision on a housing project in order to get construction started next summer.