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Mayor AJ Hashmi unveiled at Monday night’s meeting of the Paris City Council a proposal to create more single-family new residences in Paris by converting the city’s Industrial Park on the northwest loop into a 200-acre residential subdivision.
The subdivision is within minutes of J. Skinner Bakery, which has said at least 45 new employees will be coming to the plant from elsewhere, and Campbell Soup, which will be adding workers to accommodate an expansion.
Local builder Wayne Brown, speaking on behalf of other builders in the community, spoke against the mayor’s proposal, saying it would put the city in competition with builders, developers and realtors.“That land, my tax money helped pay to put that industrial park in, and it would go completely against the idea of having that property turned into residential,” Brown said.
Members of the council were swayed by much of what Brown said.
By the end of the meeting, the mayor said he sensed a consensus of the council to instead enlist the community’s help in coming up with an answer to the problem.
On Thursday, the Paris Economic Development Corporation, which owns the Industrial Park, voted down the mayor’s suggestion, saying it doesn’t make sense to trade a site-ready industrial park for land at the airport that will required a lot of work, plus clearance from TxDOT and the FAA.
The mayor prefaced his industrial park presentation by saying his idea would benefit both the city and developers – “the city in having more rooftops and developers in having more property available to build.”
Hashmi noted that the City of Paris has encouraged new and existing industry to grow by offering incentives in the way of multi-year tax incentives.
The mayor said he’s frustrated that those incentives haven’t resulted in tax benefits to the city itself. Few of the resulting new employees end up living inside the Paris city limits, he said.
He noted that all last year, the City of Paris issued only 11 building permits for new homes.
One way to get more single-family new homes in Paris would be to turn the little-used industrial park into a housing subdivision, Hashmi said.
Hashmi pitched his idea first on Thursday of last week to the Paris Economic Development Corporation (which owns the industrial park) during an executive session, then made the presentation again during Monday’s meeting of the city council.
He said the land would be made available to developers cheaply, at appraised cost.
The mayor ran into opposition at both presentations.
After his presentation Monday night, the mayor invited comment from the community. Brown responded with several arguments against the mayor’s idea.
Brown said he agrees completely with the need to increase the amount of housing available inside the Paris city limits, but disagrees vigorously with the industrial park proposal.
“I developed seven subdivisions in Paris. I spent $125,000 just to bring sewer to my property, and it’s not right for me to be in competition at lower prices with someone that doesn’t have to do that,” Brown said.
“It also would affect existing home owners in town. Someone might buy one of these existing homes, but if you’re cheaper and giving lots away …,” Brown said, without finishing the thought.
“If you’re interested in getting more homes built, maybe give tax incentives to builders or developers, or to the home owners. Give builders an advantage to building in the city limits — abate their taxes for so many years – not just six months,” Brown said. “Something should be done, but not what you’re talking about, from what I’ve heard so far.”
District 5 councilman Matt Frierson and District 4 councilman Dr. Richard Grossnickle, in particular, found Brown’s arguments persuasive.
“I think the basic premise is very well founded,” Frierson said. “More growth within the city limits – I’m totally on board with that. That’s great.”
He added: “But as far as the intersection of the private sector and government, I agree with Mr. Brown – I can’t see how those two things match up.”
Frierson noted that the PEDC has had considerable success in the past year or so with Campbell Soup, Kimberly Clark, and Skinner – among others.
“They may have had to use quite a bit of their resources to do so. At this point, the resources they have available are the site-ready location – that’s the Industrial Park, which includes a rail spur,” Frierson said.
“If this works out, and you go ahead and get an agreement to do the land swap, what cost has to be undertaken at the airport? You’ve gone from site ready with a rail spur to essentially land that is not ready and would have to go through the process of TxDOT and FAA regulations – a process that would take 12 to 18 months.”
Grossnickle said he was concerned about the desirability of a residential subdivision on the northwest loop, considering that Paris’ growth has been mainly to the east and northeast.
“There’s just not a whole lot of shopping choices. People don’t want to have to drive a long distance to get a gallon of milk or what have you. … It would be nice to have growth in the northwest quadrant, but I don’t know that residential is going to be in that direction,” Grossnickle said.
“I think you’re very wise to recommend that we have a committee of good, well-intended people, to study and work out the potential problems,” said District 3 councilman John Wright.
District 1 councilman Aaron Jenkins, said: “I’m all for growth, but I just need a little more information.”
District 2 councilwoman Sue Lancaster, who represents northwest Paris, said: “I would very much like to see development in west Paris. It’s my area, and we’re losing businesses because we don’t have the residences. We have so many dilapidated buldings. When that all comes down, it means we’re losing taxes. We need to have some residential development in my area. We just do.”
District 6 councilwoman Cleonne Drake said: “I don’t know about everyone else, but my head is swimming.”
She added: “I’m pretty much in agreement with everybody. I think we definitely need more medium-priced homes in Paris. We’ve got people who can afford to buy in The Hills and build nice homes, but not everyone can. The need (for more houses) is there whether it’s out on the loop or somewhere else.
“We’ve got all these companies coming in, and the new hospital development going in, and there are going to be more people looking for housing, so I definitely think at this point we need to look at putting a community together. I agree at this point we just need to have a committee formed and let’s look at it and bring it back for more discussion,” Drake said.
Grossnickle said the industrial park might not be the only answer.
“There’s a ton of empty land on the northwest loop. It might not all be for sale, but there is land out there,” Grossnickle said.
At the end of the discussion, Hashmi said a committee would be formed soon of builders, developers, real estate agents and others, including at least a couple of people from the council.
The mayor’s PowerPoint presentation on the proposed residential use of the Industrial Park follows: