Eagerness to sell land may have prompted poor deal for city

Without any bidders on the land that we were desperate to sell, we were stuck. Luckily, StoryBook Homes came in and gave us an offer.

Sure, it was clear in the offer that they didn’t intend to follow all our zoning laws, the most controversial being avoiding sidewalks on half the street. True, they wanted a contract with little earnest money and all reimbursable, and yes, they wanted to buy over the course of several years with the price locked in. But at least we had a bidder.

On July 11, as the City Council voted to enter into contract, the mayor and finance director made it clear that any issues regarding zoning would be dealt with in the future. They are correct that there will be extensive opportunities to address zoning later, but why not at least make it clear that while we allow all developers to apply for variances, we do not accept their layout as is and cannot guarantee nor encourage variances such as one-sided sidewalks.

I think we owe that to StoryBook. After all, they were upfront with us about the stipulations they feel they need. Why can’t we be upfront with them if such stipulations are not to our liking? I was grateful that Rich Schuman brought this up as part of his “nay” vote.

My true concern is that the mayor and others may be too anxious to sell the land. They have not concealed the fact that they are concerned about our shrinking school population and anemic growth.

Add to this that the citizens voted to sell the land and that the city could, of course, use the money, and I can see why a reasonable person would feel the best thing for the city is to work toward a sale.

However, when it comes to negotiations, the person who is not prepared to walk away has already lost.

I worry that is us. I want to follow the citizens’ vote and sell the land but I don’t want the land sale to be a Pyrrhic victory. If StoryBook is not willing to build to the zoning laws that Boulder City has set up, we can wait. We will survive without the money and can find more palatable ways to grow.

And if for some reason, the sale does not go through, and I think there is a decent chance it will not, we need to begin thinking about our options. The most interesting proposal came from the other “nay” vote on July 11.

Councilman Kiernan McManus asked why we didn’t sell the land in smaller parcels. This is a great point. Those supporting Question 1 on our recent ballot made the point that it was difficult for developers to carry the cost of so much land with only a 30-home-per-year buildout. This makes very logical sense. They also wanted to increase permits beyond just a 30 year to boost the anemic growth.

Councilman McManus’ idea would potentially do just that. He also correctly noted the speed of sale.

We could actually have the StoryBook sale not go through, and with a year delay, still sell the land just as quickly by selling it in smaller pieces rather than wait for the three-phase StoryBook deal.

In addition to this, we wouldn’t have to sell all the land at once. If two 30-home parcels sold and the rest didn’t, that would be fine. Then when we sold them a few years down the road we could sell based on present-day value rather than locking in today’s pricing.

I do not pretend there are no downsides to subdividing the land into 30-home parcels and selling them accordingly. The city would have to do more work on the layout and determining how to split up utility costs among the various parcels/developers. And many, no doubt, will not like the layout and complain.

That is the reality of public decision making: Someone will be unhappy.

Another potential is that, after all that work, we may still not get any bidders. Some people have pointed out that maybe we just don’t have the smaller builders anymore. But there is nothing stopping the big developers from bidding on multiple parcels, and the flexibility may attract more of them to bid within the confines of our 30-home-per-year cap.

With all this in my mind, the upsides outweigh the downsides. If for any reason the StoryBook contract does not go through, I hope this city will consider this very reasonable option.

Nathaniel Kaey Gee resides in Boulder City with his wife and six kids. He is a civil engineer by day and enjoys writing any chance he gets. You can follow his work on his blog www.thegeebrothers.com.

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