Brookings and U.S. Borax Corp. are resuming discussions about the company’s proposed Lone Ranch residential development north of town, six years after the last work — construction of Southwestern Oregon Community College — was completed.
Recent discussions have involved offers between the two entities about paying for different components of the next step: extending the sewer and water systems from the development near Lone Ranch beach to the north end of the city and building a large pump station to handle wastewater.
During a workshop Monday, city council was updated on progress and proposed new changes in the agreement; they will discuss the issue further at council’s June 11 meeting.
“This has been languishing for over a decade,” said City Manager Milliman. “We’ve been talking with them about how to get going again.”
The city and Borax entered into an infrastructure financing agreement in 2009, whereby Borax would pay to complete the extensions and have part of its costs reimbursed from the city’s System Development Charges, Milliman said. That money is collected from new development to help pay for infrastructure systems. Currently the city has $680,000 in undedicated wastewater SDCs.
The Great Recession, however, put everything on hold until last year, when Borax was able to clear some timber, update infrastructure cost estimates and determine which parts of the 550-acre property could be set aside for housing developers through sales reimbursement agreements.
Under the current agreement, Milliman said, Borax would be responsible for 23 percent of the cost of the sewer extension work, including a realignment through South Coast Lumber’s mill site to eliminate the Mill Beach lift station.
Additionally, the city would reimburse Borax for 83 percent of the cost of the lift station through the city’s SDCs, collected from new sewer line users north of Carpenterville Road. The current SDC is $11,102 per unit.
The city is preparing an application to the USDA for $8 million to $10 million and anticipates getting $2 million in grants to cover its share of the cost, he said.
The estimated cost of the new pump station is $628,000 and the cost to link the sewer systems is $703,000. But Borax said these costs would add about $40,000 to the cost of each of the 60 homes it proposes to build in the first phase.
The city also wants Borax to increase the number of affordable housing units available in the subdivision. Milliman said the company has offered to donate land to the city, which would then be responsible for locating a developer.
The city is now proposing to change the agreement to eliminate Borax’s requirement to pay that 23 percent of the sewer system costs if the city gets at least $1.5 million in grant funding.
Another change would give Lone Ranch no share of the SDCs, requiring the city to recoup its $703,000 expense in the lift station through SDCs on 63 new homes built there.
And the city would pay for the sewer lift station using SDC money if Borax pays to build the sewer line from the lift station to the city system and sells at least one housing neighborhood to a developer who will build within a year, complete at least 15 units within 18 months and at least 40 homes within 36 months — 20 percent of which must be available to low- and moderate-income households.
In lieu of that last requirement, Borax could donate land in one of its neighborhoods to a nonprofit housing agency, which would in turn provide at least 40 below-market-cost homes within 18 months.
“It is simply an incentive to find a housing developer,” Milliman said. “They don’t have anyone at the gate, ready to start buying land out there. It’ll depend on when a housing developer bites on the project. This is the simple part.”
There are other considerations, too, including how to define “affordable” housing and the sale of such housing in the future. Many communities limit affordable home resales profits to a certain percent each year — often the consumer price index — to keep those units in the market.
“I’ve heard from this council that they want Section 8, HUD housing,” Milliman said. “I’ve also heard from this council they want under-$250,000 for a single-family residence. It could be both. I’d encourage you to maintain flexibility.”
It also must determine the placement of “affordable” housing and Section 8, or subsidized housing, both of which are scarce in Curry County. Both could be interspersed throughout the development or placed on one site.
“Those details are not in here,” Milliman said of the agreements. “It’ll depend on what deal the city can make with a potential housing developer, and it assumes Borax will fulfill its obligation to build the sewer and pump station.”
The big picture
Mayor Jake Pieper said he felt Borax’s proposed land donation is “candy” to get the city to build the lift station, and that SDCs should be used to build brick and mortar infrastructure.
But Dennis Triglia, new to the council since Borax came to Brookings, was not enthralled about any of the “candy” choices.
In reviewing all the documents related to the development, he said he learned that Borax assured the city it would need no water from the Chetco River as it has enough on its own property to serve the development.
“So somewhere along the line, decisions were made to allow the use of Chetco River water, with little or possibly no action taken to address the effects of that on the water flow, especially during the summer, and additionally by last year’s significant damage to the watershed by the Chetco Bar Fire?” he questioned.
He also requested staff to provide to the council proof Borax is in compliance with three state planning goals involving natural resources related to water and wetlands.
Triglia also said he was uncomfortable that the increased sewer demand on the city’s treatment plant would be paid for by all taxpayers — “for a project built by a corporation with far greater financial capacity than the community.”
He is also not happy about the city proposing to use the city’s $680,000 in wastewater SDCs to attract development.
“The idea seems to be that the cost for infrastructure per new home is so high no one will commit,” Triglia said. “That in itself should be a signal not to apply for grants. The city is trying to make the case that this is… affordable housing, which I feel, it is not.”
He also noted numerous city councilors — and five mayors — have more than fairly accommodated Borax and the delays associated with Lone Ranch.
“I do not feel the taxpaying residents of Brookings should be forced to subsidize development by a major corporation,” he said. “Infrastructure costs money and these costs should, in my opinion, be borne by Borax and not by city residents.”
Reach Jane Stebbins at firstname.lastname@example.org .