Land swap

By Jason Ferguson

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As the Custer County Housing and Redevelopment Commission (CCH) works its way through plans to bring much-needed housing to the city of Custer, it wants the city along for the ride.

At the July 1 meeting of the Custer City Council, three CCH representatives discussed a possible land swap they say would go a long way toward allowing CCH to construct more affordable housing with the city—something multiple surveys of Custer say is desperately needed.

Under the plan, a tract of land the city owns near its water tower on the north end of town would be gifted to CCH for little or no money—similar to how the community center was gifted to the city from Custer School District or the Custer County Search and Rescue building (part of the old hospital) was gifted to the county from the hospital and then gifted to the city—and then will be traded to Matt Hespen in exchange for his land directly east of the new hospital. That land would then be developed by CCH for more housing in the city.

CCH attorney Jerry Baldwin said some people mistakenly believe CCH is nonprofit. Rather, it is a quasi-governmental entity that takes guidance from the Custer County Commission and receives some county funding, but is not directly a part of the county. However, because it is affiliated with the county, it is legal for the city to donate land directly to CCH as long as the land to be donated would be used for the benefit of the public.

The land the hospital was constructed on belonged to Hespen and Regional Health maintains the first right of refusal on other tracts of land adjacent to the hospital. Regional Health apparently will exercise its option on one of the tracts of land, but it is possible the hospital would not exercise its option and release a second chunk of land, which is three acres.

The city’s land, which  it would likely never develop, is 16 acres, while the total acreage of the land Hespen owns that could be available is 13 acres. Should Regional Health exercise its option on the three-acre parcel, however, it would reduce the total to 10 acres. Regardless, Baldwin said, CCH would like to acquire the land for the future development.

Baldwin said the location of the land near the hospital, assisted living and senior care center would be a bonus. An agreement is in place with Hespen, Baldwin said, contingent upon his receiving the city property, which he would then develop into three lots.

The question, Baldwin said, is what the city would require to make the swap happen.

“What do you want to see to make this thing work?” Baldwin asked.

Mayor Corbin Herman said the city’s general government committee discussed the idea and is in favor of the concept. He said the city would want to annex the land into city limits.

“If we are giving city land [away], we want it to definitely benefit the city in some fashion,” he said.

Herman said the city would like to see a letter of intent from CCH for what would be done with the land, as well as a plan to bring sewer lines to it. Water lines are already in place.

CCH board president Dennis Moulton said CCH would not develop all of the land immediately, but do it in phases as the need for more units arises.

“We’re looking at it as a long-term growth situation,” he said.

Matt Fridell, another CCH member at the meeting, said CCH would work on a sketch with physical aspects of the design to present to the city. It will be brought to a future meeting.

City attorney Chris Beesley said he wasn’t sure if the city could deed the land directly to CCH or if it would have to deed it to the county, which could then deed it to CCH. He said he would investigate the issue before the next meeting.

“It will benefit the community greatly, I feel,” Herman said.

In other news from the July 1 meeting, the council:

• Discussed its upcoming contract renewal with Custer County for the continued law enforcement presence of the Custer County Sheriff’s Office.

The city paid the county $375,000 for law enforcement services a year ago, despite the city’s using the sheriff’s office less than the previous year. The city’s contract with the county was previously directly proportional to the number of calls generated from the city, but when that number dropped, the council voted to continue to pay the same amount it previously had for law enforcement.

Herman said he believes Custer County Sheriff Marty Mechaley will seek a 4 percent increase in salaries for his department this year, which would mean the city would pay around $10,000 more for its share of the raises if approved by the Custer County Commission during budget talks. Herman said the city is interested in entering a longer-term contract, such as a four-year accord. The contract with the county is yearly.

• Heard from public works director Bob Morrison, who said the constant rain continues to be an issue, with the storm the last weekend in June causing a surprising amount of damage. As much as two inches of rain fell during the storm. Groundwater is “popping up everywhere” as well, he said.

• Voted Nina Nielsen as council president and Jeannie Fischer as vice president. Herman, Fischer, Nielsen and new alderwoman Peg Ryan all took their oaths of office, as did Beesley, who was once again appointed city attorney.