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City of Darlington hears about housing study
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DARLINGTON – At the Darlington City Council meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 20, Bob Jones, Lafayette Development Executive Director, made a presentation to the council regarding a regional housing study that is planned for this spring.
    Jones said, “Lack of housing is an issue in Lafayette County, Southwest Wisconsin, and nationally. We are trying to get ahead of the curve here. Since 2008 we don’t have developers buying land, putting in infrastructure, building houses and selling the houses. It’s much more complicated now, because of the workforce shortage that we have.”
    “We are working with Prosperity Southwest Wisconsin and Southwestern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission to pull everybody together and do a study,” Jones continued. “Thirty communities will be looked at, including Argyle, Belmont, Benton, Blanchardville, Gratiot, Darlington, Shullsburg in Lafayette County. Six counties are participating. All communities will receive an individual study.”
    “The study will assess the scope of the housing situation in your area, find developers, and create the data we need to get the financing to attract developers. We’ll also be looking into transitioning renters into home ownership, mapping and incentives. It’s typically a complicated process,” said Jones.
    Jones continued, “We have a grant from Alliant Energy right now. We are applying for another grant from Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC). This will reduce the cost to around $800 or $900 per community, depending how many communities join in. Right now all but Argyle and Darlington (in Lafayette County) have committed to the project.”
    Jones said, “Workforce is really what’s driving this. I toured the Wisconsin Whey facility; it’s a great facility paying higher then normal wages for the area. They’re looking to add 60 to 100 people. Where are these people going to live? This study will do an inventory of what’s here, price range of housing here, income levels, the whole works.”
    Kriss Marion, Lafayette County Board, added, “What this does is take away some of the risk for developers. If we do a study and that study can point to a particular type of housing that would be most useful, it’s easier for a developer to take a risk if some of that risk is removed.”
    Alder Steve Pickett observed, “We have looked at housing expansion before and it makes sense. There is land we could get, but it’s awful expensive to purchase and that creates it’s own problem. This may be is something where you should be talking to some of the townships. The Town of Darlington has had a lot of housing development and their tax base has changed.”
    The study is expected to be complete by late September. Alder Don Osterday commented, “I think $800 would be well invested for a study like this. The problem with Darlington is we have land around us, but the owners are looking for $50,000 an acre.” Jones stated the going rate is $20,000 an acre, plus $700,000 for infrastructure. The item was not on the agenda for action.
    Jones also gave the council an update on broadband, county website and proposed new fairgrounds.
Brief Ranger Discussion
    The looming vote on opening up ATV/UTV routes in Darlington is creating a lot of interest both in Darlington and in a lot of other communities. The ordinance that will be opening up the city for ATV/UTV travel was not completed at this meeting so no official action could be taken. Mayor David Breunig allowed ATV Club representative’s to address the council.
    Joe Boll began by asking the council if there could be discussion and action at the next meeting (March 6), as the club will need to order signs, get maps made, etc. Bill McDaniel, city attorney, who is rewriting the ordinance. He was confident that the ordinance would be done in time for the March 6 meeting.
    Fuzzy North asked if the council had heard any negative input. Breunig said that he’s heard parents say they weren’t happy with the trail going past the schools (ATV’s/UTV’s are specifically not allowed on school grounds and the trail is currently on Old Center Hill Road that goes past the schools).
    Jason King stated he hasn’t had a single comment for or against. Alder Don Osterday said, “I’ve had three or four comments and they’ve all been positive.”
    In Other Business:
    •Approved financial statements for the city, water and sewer departments. Pickett asked about the hotel room tax funds. Approximately $24,000 room tax fees were collected in 2017 and the city’s 20% share is $4,000, the Darlington Chamber receives approximately $20,000. Pickett remembered those funds are only to be spent on advertising and that the chamber is to make a yearly report to the council regarding the affluence. That report has not been given in several years and Breunig will check into that.
    •Went into closed session to discuss the raze orders that are currently ongoing. After closed session action was taken to authorize Attorney McDaniel to follow through with court action on the Fabian Ortiz raze order regarding the building on his property located at 816 E. Louisa St. The motion was approved 5-1 with Osterday voting no.  No other action was taken.