Highland News Leader

Highland City Council clarifies home developer incentives

The city council has clarified its home developer incentives in preparation for new subdivisions under development in Highland.

Highland’s existing ordinance providing a $4,000 incentive to homebuilders in the city limits turned out to have some vague language, according to planning and zoning administrator Breann Speraneo.

First approved last year, the way the ordinance was written made it unclear whether the funds would go to the builder or the developer, so technically the construction company hired to actually build the house might get the incentive, she said.

“It’s basically a language term, but it’s a hot-button issue ... because now we anticipate new developments,” Speraneo said.

Pending is Carbay Crest, which consists of 46 lots at the northwest corner of Sportsman and Vulliet roads. Its development comes after years of struggle to get new homes built in Highland, and was the first new subdivision approved in 10 years. In 2018, the city annexed 20 acres to bring the subdivision into city limits, with Mettler Development handling the project.

In 2006, Highland saw 75 new single-family and two-family homes constructed. Through the recession, however, the numbers dropped almost every year until it hit a low of four homes built in 2014. Since then the numbers have rebounded some, hovering around 11-15 houses most years.

Highland’s population was 8,438 in the 2000 census and grew to 9,919 in 2010. It is now projected at 10,031 in a 2017 estimate, approximately the same numbers as neighboring Waterloo, Wood River, and Troy, and slightly less than Glen Carbon.

But that’s a growth percentage of 1.2 percent from 2010 to 2017, according to analysis provided by the city. A growth rate of 3 percent or more is considered healthy, such as 4 percent in Waterloo, 3.2 percent in Troy and 2.9 percent in O’Fallon. Other cities, including Fairview Heights, Collinsville and Wood River, have lost as much as these cities have gained.

In fact, if analyzing from 2000 to 2017, many Madison County muncipalities have gained double-digit percentages in their population — as much as 22.6 percent for Glen Carbon and 15.5 percent for Edwardsville, while Wood River has lost 8.6 percent of its population.

City leaders have expressed concern several times for Highland’s dwindling home construction. In July, the council voted 3-1 in favor of reducing the number of inspections required for new home permits from 18 to 12, with three more handed to state inspectors.

The incentive program allows only 10 residences per fiscal year to receive the funds in an existing subdivision, and 15 residences in a newly-platted subdivision. The $4,000 is intended to abate the tap-on fees for city water, Speraneo said.

The program did not pass without some debate.

“It seems to me it’s padding the pockets of (developers),” said councilman John Hipskind.

Councilwoman Peggy Bellm said she was concerned the first-time homebuyer incentive program in historic neighborhoods of Highland had expired and did not get renewed.

“That helped spur the purchase of homes that have been sitting vacant for a long time,” she said.

However, the language clarification passed with a unanimous vote at the Aug. 19 meeting.