Willmar City Council gives preliminary OK to tax abatement for redevelopment
WILLMAR -- Hutchinson mobile home park owner Gus Wurdell recently purchased the Regency East Mobile Home Park from its Colorado owners and is proposing to redevelop the Willmar park with new infrastructure and new affordable workforce housing.
WILLMAR - Hutchinson mobile home park owner Gus Wurdell recently purchased the Regency East Mobile Home Park from its Colorado owners and is proposing to redevelop the Willmar park with new infrastructure and new affordable workforce housing.
But Wurdell said the project will not support itself without a city business incentive, and he’s requesting the Willmar City Council consider a 10-year abatement of city property taxes.
Wurdell said the abatement will allow time for sufficient redevelopment and position the project for long-term success.
Wurdell’s request was reported to the council Monday night and the council voted to give preliminary approval to the abatement and directed City Planning and Development Director Bruce Peterson to solicit a formal application from Wurdell.
The council’s action was recommended by the Community Development Committee.
Councilwoman Audrey Nelsen asked City Attorney Robert Scott to clarify the meaning of “preliminary approval.’’
Scott said the council was not obligating itself. With preliminary approval, the council will likely receive a formal application, in which case the council will have to apply its policies to make a decision, he said.
“You’re not binding the council one way or the other,’’ Scott said. “You’re giving a signal to the potential applicant that it might be worth his time to go through that process.’’
In a Sept. 15 letter to Peterson, Wurdell said Regency East has suffered from poor management and deferred maintenance, which resulted in 75 percent vacancy and blighted conditions.
After several years of trying to take over ownership of the park, he successfully closed on the property Sept. 15.
Wurdell said affordable, quality housing is in short supply in Willmar as noted in the Vision 2020 and Vision 2040 community studies, “and I believe this project will make a tremendous impact towards satisfying this need.’’
Preliminary approval was recommended by the Community Development Committee. Committee Chair Rick Fagerlie said some questions were raised during committee discussion regarding the value of property that would be subject to the abatement.
Fagerlie said staff will research that matter and the matter will be part of the financial analysis. The financial analysis will determine whether or not the mobile homes, which are considered personal property, are included in the abatement.
Fagerlie reminded the council that Wurdell came to the committee about a year-and-a-half ago and said he wanted to purchase the park, but that the owners in Colorado decided not to sell.
“I think this would be a great project and really help the northeast part of Willmar,’’ Fagerlie told the council.
Councilman Jim Dokken asked if the project will be a positive thing for the city.
Peterson explained Wurdell must still provide a formal application with a better statement of intent and a financial analysis to demonstrate the need for the tax abatement, among other things.
Peterson said the city can expect the infrastructure to be upgraded and streets to be improved. The park will be better maintained and common areas for recreation will be created.
Peterson said Wurdell was looking to be the primary home buyer and will resell the homes, but will rent the lots.
Councilman Tim Johnson said he did not recall that the council had given preliminary approval to tax abatements in the past.
Peterson agreed and said the committee worked on a different process to evaluate and review tax abatement requests.
As a reasonable first step, Peterson suggested staff receive the developer’s proposal and staff do some initial review and bring it to committee to determine if the request adheres to the policies.
Johnson said Peterson is working on more formalized procedures. “Obviously on this particular property, it looks quite positive,’’ Johnson said.
“I think this project has the potential to really bring a benefit to the east side of town,’’ Peterson said.