Filling West Jefferson’s housing gap

Property owner hopes new village leaders will act

By Audrey Ingram -

Moving on up doesn’t have to mean moving out of West Jefferson, one area property owner says.

Russ Miller owns more than 400 acres off U.S. Route 40 just east of West Jefferson’s village limits.

He’s working to recruit a developer to build a few hundred new homes on the land over the next decade or two. The goal is to build homes to fill a middle-tier gap in West Jefferson’s housing market, he said.

There are a few hurdles, including a lack of local comprehensive planning and the high cost to tap into village water and sewer lines.

But Miller believes the impending construction of a Turkey Hill mini-mart and gas station down the road could offer village leaders a chance to fast-track his idea.

If village leaders can convince Turkey Hill officials to build a larger facility — featuring more groceries — the store would likely need to hook into the village’s water and sewer system, West Jefferson Mayor Ray Martin said previously.

Extending those lines to the store site would also make water and sewer accessible to the housing developers Miller is working to recruit.

It’s an opportunity he doesn’t want the village to miss.

The housing gap

Nearly 87 percent of homes in West Jefferson are valued at less than $150,000, according to data from the 2014 American Community Survey, conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau.

So when a West Jefferson resident gets that promotion or decides to start a family, there’s no slightly bigger home for them to move to — so they move away, Miller said.

He’s observed this middle-class flight from the village over more than two decades.

Additionally, most of the new employees hired by businesses in West Jefferson’s expanding commerce park don’t live — and consequently don’t spend money — in the village, he added.

Miller sees residential development as a way to change that. In fact, he believes so strongly in the residential potential that he turned down an offer to sell a piece of the land to a developer who wanted to build another dollar store, no water and sewer required.

Miller moved to the West Jefferson area in the early 1990s because he liked the feel of the community.

“You could go into the hardware store, or the restaurant, and you’d know everybody,” he said. “That has disappeared.”

Local folks say they don’t want to live in another Hilliard or Dublin, but that doesn’t mean they can’t “cherry pick” a few perks to implement in West Jefferson, Miller said.

Village, county and township leaders should also focus more on cooperation and less on competition, he added. He welcomes feedback on his own ideas.

Residents and leaders share a desire to revitalize their community, but they will have to take charge of its image and planning, Miller’s land-use consultant Shani Porter said.

Home builders will consider quality of life and a community’s reputation when deciding where to build, she said.

She pointed to a series of concept drawings for a housing development designed by a firm Miller hired in spring of 2014.

“We have a plan,” she said. “West Jefferson doesn’t have a plan.”

Currently, West Jefferson is the only Madison County municipality without a comprehensive plan — London, Plain City and Mount Sterling had plans written in the last five to 10 years.

Hiring a firm to write a comprehensive plan for the village — a process that includes community stakeholder meetings and data compilation — was a goal listed by both West Jefferson mayoral candidates in November.

Porter estimates a comprehensive plan for a village the size of West Jefferson would cost $50,000 to $100,000 and take less than a year to complete.

In the meantime, village leaders could pursue a variety of grant funding to extend water and sewer lines to get things moving, she said.

“There needs to be a united front,” Porter said. “There is so much potential for this land.”

A big gamble

It would cost about $1 million to extend water and sewer lines the roughly 2,200 feet from village limits to the intersection of U.S. 40 and State Route 142, West Jefferson Public Services Director John Mitchell said.

The cost would be 30 to 40 percent less if the lines didn’t have to be pumped under a creek, he estimated.

Miller said the developers he has pitched won’t take a look without water and sewer.

Mitchell said it’s a hefty gamble for municipalities — and their taxpayers — to take on that entire cost themselves without some sort of development agreement in hand.

“We would look to partner with any developer to assist in funding,” Mitchell said. “We can’t go out and build it and wait for somebody to come. We don’t know if we’ll get our money back.”

Municipalities can apply for a variety of development grants and zero percent-interest loans, but these funding sources tend to favor commercial and industrial projects over residential developments due to the impact on tax revenue, he noted.

Of course, there are always exceptions, and development agreements involving multiple entities can get creative, he said.

For example, if Turkey Hill wants to tap into the village’s water and sewer lines, they could be reimbursed their initial investment by future developers who also tap into the lines.

Village council members could vote to pay for the extension on their own, but that would put a lot of liability on the village, Mitchell said.

David Kell, director of the Madison County Community Improvement Corporation, agrees that it is “not ideal” for a municipality to foot the whole bill for a utility expansion.

Every situation is unique, but public-private partnerships are common, he said.

The village already has the capacity in the water and sewer plants to handle an additional 300 homes, Mitchell noted, though ongoing projects to upgrade and expand both plants will increase that capacity even more.

Talkin’ Turkey Hill

The as-yet-unbuilt Turkey Hill, address 9580 W. Broad St., is seeking permission to sell wine, beer and mixed beverages on Sundays via an issue on the March primary ballot.

Turkey Hill is a combined gas station and mini market business model that is owned and operated by Kroger. There are currently about 260 Turkey Hill locations in Pennsylvania, Indiana and the Columbus, Ohio area.

Applications for the store, which will be located at the intersection of U.S. 40 and State Route 142, to sell wine, beer and mixed beverages during the week are pending, according to ballot language.

But no one seems to know when construction will actually start, or how big the store will be.

West Jefferson Mayor Martin reached out to a company official when he was elected in November and was told they are “for sure” coming, but weren’t sure how large to build.

Turkey Hill public relations reps have not returned repeated calls for comment.
Property owner hopes new village leaders will act

By Audrey Ingram

Reach Audrey Ingram at 740-852-1616, ext. 1615 or on Twitter @Audrey.MP

Reach Audrey Ingram at 740-852-1616, ext. 1615 or on Twitter @Audrey.MP