O'Mary: More apartments needed

By ED HOWELL
Posted 3/14/19

Jasper Mayor David O'Mary said Wednesday that his five-year plan for the city includes getting more multi-unit housing as "a short supply" of apartments exists in the city. "Anything that rises …

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O'Mary: More apartments needed

Posted

Jasper Mayor David O'Mary said Wednesday that his five-year plan for the city includes getting more multi-unit housing as "a short supply" of apartments exists in the city. 

"Anything that rises above slum grade are rented," he said. "You talk to the realtors, they don't have enough houses to sell." 

O'Mary spoke at a Jasper Main Street meeting at Synovus Bank downtown, outlining his Retail and Industrial Growth, Housing and Technology (R.I.G.H.T.) plan to implement over the next five years.

Booklets outlining details of the plan, produced and paid for personally by O'Mary without city funds, were handed out, noting the slogan, "Working Hard for Tomorrow, Doing what is R.I.G.H.T. for Jasper." O'Mary invited citizens to ask questions or get copies of the complete five-page plan, which will also be posted today on Facebook. 

According to O'Mary, the city needs businesses, government officials and other entities across Jasper to buy into it, ranging from the Daily Mountain Eagle to Bevill State Community College to the local car dealerships. If they do, "I really believe beyond a shadow of a doubt ... I believe the City of Jasper will see a lot of blue sky and sunshine."

He noted he had a year and a half left in his four-year term while starting a five-year plan. "The math does not work out," he said. "You might say, 'He is awfully presumptuous about his political future.' That is not my intent. I hope I have the time to execute the plan before you. Time will tell if we do." 

O'Mary noted that when he took office he developed a 100-day plan. "We hit every mark within a prescribed time," he said, holding up a copy of that initial plan. 

He said when he came into office, it was like dealing with a grizzly bear, in that you have to be concerned about the immediate present instead of the future. Now, through a team effort, he said the city reserves are at an all-time high.

The current plan came from reading about and talking with other successful municipal leaders, including Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland and Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle. The result is a plan that he believes will bring "significant benefits" for Jasper. 

On housing growth, O'Mary noted that before the Great Recession, housing was actively being constructed across the city. His latest monthly building permit report a few days ago showed only one new residential structure, and none the month before. And if there was a groundswell for single family dwellings today, the city would be in trouble. 

"There are very few prepared lots in this city," he said. "You can't expect a developer to tie up substantial sums of money when there is no demand." 

He talked of working with Alabama Power on residential development, as they know the best developers in the state and know who to put city officials in touch with. 

"I had a meeting with the vice president of Alabama Power Company in the early part of last week, and his commitment to this city is, 'We'll connect you with as many developers as you want to be connected with.'"

As the market has evolved, tract housing in a subdivision has become less common. "High-density housing is the way of the future - condominiums, garden homes, apartments, that sort of thing," he said. 

The city's infrastructure is not as adequate as city officials prefer to be because most of the houses in Jasper operate off private sanitary sewer, he said. "But we have a relationship with the Jasper Waterworks and Sewer Board that I think is unprecedented," he said.

He noted officials from the board offered to help with helping salvage a recent project he did not name. It was noted the sewer was some distance away, but the board offered to help. 

It was not clear if he was referring to a proposal late last year for a $6 million, 56-unit housing development, from Birmingham-based Gateway Management Co., on Airport Road for people ages 55 and over. The Jasper City Council eventually decided to side with Airport Road residents to turn down a zoning proposal that would have led to the project being constructed. 

"We have to have the developers. We have to begin to develop opportunities for multi-family housing if we expect to propel this city forward," he said. "I met with an owner of a piece of property that is working on conceptional drawings for mixed use, that being for elderly housing, maybe apartments and garden homes right here in our city. I really believe when we are successful in doing that we will see housing begin to grow in our city." 

He said condos and garden homes appeal to millennials. That gives them an opportunity to live in our city. They may work in Birmingham, he said, noting they usually will live in urban centers. 

"I believe we have a fighting chance in Jasper but we have got to figure out a way to bring more apartments, multi-family housing to this city. I think it can be done with the right developer. You can't do it wholesale, but I think you can chip away at it and make it happen." 

As for Gateway Management, O'Mary answered a question about any future interest in Jasper by the firm. He said that was a tax credit project, where one puts in a funding application to the Alabama Housing Finance Authority, with a deadline to commit to those funds and payment for a commitment fee. "If you don't use those funds, they evaporate," he said. 

That is what will happen on the Airport Road project, and Gateway will have to reapply. "But they were favorable to coming back and looking in Jasper," he said. 

The five-year plan also called on working on district neighborhood cleanup projects, infrastructure improvements for access to housing, encouraging citizens "to embrace housing development," encouraging loft-style housing downtown, working with realtors, and updating community layout plans centered on where families can live close to their destinations.

It also calls for creating Green Advantage and Green Space policies to preserve rural and open space and promote recreation and healthy living.