By KayLynn Roberts-McMurray
This land on 17th Street next to the Mountain View subdivision has been tabbed for a new housing development.

Last week’s Ely City Council meeting drew the White Pine County Commission chairman Richard Howe to attend. One of the agenda items was White Pine County requesting the city to waive water and sewer hookup fees in the amount of $45,500 for 13 single-family homes on county land located on 17th Street adjacent to the Mountain View subdivision.

Two letters from the public were read into the record.  

One was from Dale Derbidge, Ely resident and Ely Municipal Utilities Board Member. “The City of Ely needs the revenue from sewer and water hookups to maintain the infrastructure. I own several building lots and when I do build houses for resale, will I get my fees waived as well? It seems to me the City must be fair in this matter.  I would suggest denying the County’s request.” 

Bob & Jerilyn Clayton sent in a similar letter. The Clayton’s explained how they own six acres of land directly across the street, east of the property in question. “This action is unfair to us as property owners, and to all of the property owners in the surrounding areas of Ely. It is unjust enrichment to the Developers.” 

Clayton’s went on to explain how they brought in a developer to build 20 houses on 29 lots across the street. The developer asked not for a waiver of fees, but just a reduction in fees, and the answer was no. “This would have been 20 beautiful new homes in Ely, finished and occupied for several years now, which Ely desperately needed. Unless the City Council is prepared to waive all fees in the future on our 20 lots, and lots of other property owners in the area who seek to develop their land, it is imperative the council vote no.” the Claytons said. 

A letter from Howe to the City of Ely stated that the commission had taken steps to offer this land for less than fair market value to a developer who is willing to undertake this project in an effort to spur economic development and address the critical housing shortage that exists within the City of Ely and White Pine County.   

Howe also explained that he had brought this item before the mayor and council prior to the newly elected mayor and councilmembers and previous council members agreed that something like this needed to happen. 

The project will follow all city codes and ordinances, including street paving, lights, fire hydrants, curb and gutter and sidewalks. The new homes will also be required to have front yard landscaping. 

Howe asked the council in his letter for a cooperative effort on the part of both the city and county governments, the county provided the land while the city waives the hookup fees.  

Councilman Kurt Carson mentioned that the Utility Board meeting held earlier in the day suggested tabling the item. 

“They thought maybe coming up with a different avenue on this, maybe even a pay as you go, the developer comes in and does four houses this year, they pay for the four houses,” Carson said. “White Pine County as you know has a  critical housing need, economic development is at a stand still. We have 60-plus jobs at the prison that can’t be filled because we can’t house the prison guards.  

“There are 23 full time openings at the local BLM office, they are high paying jobs. We have construction coming into town, starting next month. I applaud the city for their role in allowing camping in some of the trailer parks. We are in a crisis, we have recognized this for a while.”

Howe has been working on efforts to resolve the housing crunch issue as early as 2013. In November of 2018, a roundtable discussion was held with county and city officials, engineers, real estate companies, and mine officials.  The phrase “no housing” was a repeat at roundtable meetings. 

This project would be new, located near the Mountain View subdivision area.

“The county is stepping forward with their developer to make this a whole new development,” Howe said.

Howe noted he heard comments at the meeting,  “There have been complaints as you heard today from property owners saying we are infringing on their right. We have offered them to take the lead, and we’ll step back, but we aren’t getting any results. Between the city and the county, both local governments, I feel it’s our duty to see to this county and city moving forward, and housing is the number one issue.” 

The commission accepted the only bid that was received for this project, which was from JCR Development, a local company. The price of the bid? $100. Concessions were made to extend the amount of time for the developer to complete the housing project in 36 months.  JCR would begin with four houses, the floor plan would be 1,600 square feet with double garages, front landscaped yards, with a starting prices of $250,000. 

Howe stressed the housing need. “We need housing for people to live, they can’t live in their cars, this year in the summer when we have tourists, construction workers, where will they stay? There is no room at the inn.”

 It is estimated that the revenue on the property tax of 13 homes would be nearly $30,000 and the return revenue on water and sewer rates would be $15,000 a year according to Howe’s calculations. 

Councilman Ernie Flangas agreed with Howe that the city needs new homes. “When you mention property tax revenue increase, the city of Ely has not received one cent of property tax from the county. We’re giving up that money to give you more. Until that situation is resolved, I cannot be agreeable with this.”

City Councilman Jim Alworth described a scenario that the City of Reno recently did.  

“Their goal by their mayor was to build 1,000 to 1,200 homes in 130 days, they didn’t waive the water sewer hook up, or make a  deal with a contractor over a five year period,” he said. “You may call that a lousy, and you did say lousy $45,500 but let me tell you something we just raised all the residents water by three percent, and you tell those people that was a lousy deal. You buy a house, you want water or sewer you pay for the hookup.” 

Howe continued to give a passionate plea for the city to work with the County on this project. “We have professionals moving into this town, they don’t want to move into a 90-year-old home, that has one bedroom, one bath, we need to offer services, it’s vital.”

Carson said, “With that being said you give the developer 36 months to build, most of these projects will be wrapping up and the workers will be leaving, granted we could still use them don’t get me wrong but the housing crunch, mass majority will be trickling out after the 36 month period.” 

Howe said, “By not building the houses your telling 60 to a 100 workers you’re not welcome here.”  

Alworth said, “You said that, I didn’t.”

Howe, “that’s a fact, if they can’t work here they are going to work somewhere else.”

Councilman Ed Spear, voiced his opposition to the request. “We have many people who have properties In this community who pay the fees they have to. Once you start waiving fees you open the door. I’m totally against it, if we voted tonight.”

Councilwoman Michelle Beecher said, “I think we need to keep in mind, the work that has been done to recruit a developer to do this, it has been years, and over and over we’ve heard that housing is an issue. We’re looking at 13 houses, where people are paying landfill fees, water, sewer fees, and are shopping in our stores, and having family and friends come visit them and spend money here. I just think that to there is something that needs to be done.”

Mayor Nathan Robertson expressed his thoughts on the matter, explained the city can look at ways to assist with economic development and suggested the council take heed to the Utility Boards suggestion of tabling the item. 

“We can come back with one or two other options, that are palatable, so we can still participate with the county,” he said. “When you start waving fees, where does it stop?”  

Alworth stated, “sounds like they have a contract, maybe the contractor should be here, then we can ask if this is going to make or break the deal?” 

 A motion was made to table the item with the caveat to have the contractor come to the next city councl meeting to see if there is a financial impact.