By Barbara Ellestad
Emphasizing that it was only the beginning of a very long discussion and process, City Development Services Director Richard Secrist laid out to the Mesquite city council some of the obstacles the councilors will have to overcome in order to see more affordable housing built in the area.
At the council meeting, Tuesday, July 10, Secrist said his staff and the Mesquite Housing Task Force have been examining ways to fill the gap between the supply and demand for affordable units that includes senior housing, workforce housing, low- and moderate-income housing.
Secrist said that “members of the committee and city staff have reached out to area developers and property owners to see what it would take to interest them in developing some moderately priced housing in Mesquite. What most of the developers/builders are telling us is that it will take significant assistance from the city to lower their costs and give them greater densities to get them interested in doing something.”
A St. George developer told the staff and committee that he would only be interested in doing multi-family housing if he could get densities of 35 to 50 units per acre with significantly reduced land costs and lower impact fees.
“Mesquite’s highest density zone only allows 18 units per acre with a 35-foot height limit,” Secrist said. “I’m not sure Mesquite would want that high of a density, but it may be appropriate given the right location. But the task force and staff are persuaded that there are going to have to be changes in what we are willing to allow in order to meet our housing needs without continuing to fall behind.”
After saying that most Mesquite rental units don’t have any vacancies in the lower dollar ranges, Secrist remarked that many families move to Bunkerville, Scenic or Beaver Dam. He added that while single family home construction is going strong, no multi-family housing has been built in the last 10 years.
“What is stopping these kinds of housing units from being built? Are there areas zoned for them? Are the zones too one-dimensional,” Secrist asked. “Can multi-family housing be mixed in with commercial zones since we have a lot of commercial land that isn’t going to be developed commercially any time soon?”
After presenting different zoning change options, Secrist said, “I think we come back to the council with some ideas for multi-family housing and general commercial to make some changes in zoning. There are property owners waiting in the wings who look like they want to do something.”
“The zoning change recommendations make sense to me,” Councilman George Rapson said as the council weighed in. “Rentals are the critical need right now. We need to figure out how to incent builders to build rentals and build them cheap. I would like to see the committee put together a hierarchy and say what’s most needed. I would like to see the focus on reality.”
Councilman Dave Ballweg questioned Secrist about potential problems combining commercial and residential zoning. “No, as long as we approve the zoning,” Secrist answered.
“We have a whole section in Canyon Crest that isn’t being built out because the homes would be too small,” Ballweg said. “I agree that high-density apartment rentals would help us out a lot. One of the problems with high-density housing is the need for parking. Then the neighborhood becomes challenged by appearance.”
Councilman Brian Wursten also agreed that rental housing needs to be a top priority citing the low wages of many workers. He also sees a need for smaller units in high-density areas for retirees. “We need to take care of the people in Mesquite who are working here and living here,” Wursten said.
The council voted unanimously to have city staff and the Mesquite Housing Task Force develop alternatives and possible solutions that will be brought back to council for consideration.