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Published April 11 2012

Moorhead pushes for homebuyers

MOORHEAD – After a relatively slow year for home construction in 2011, Moorhead officials met with local builders and real estate agents Wednesday about boosting efforts to attract new residents.

“We’re excited about getting back on track,” City Manager Michael Redlinger told about 75 people gathered for the breakfast meeting at the Courtyard by Marriott.

City officials have been working with the Home Builders Association of Fargo-Moorhead on some “very specific” recommendations to reduce costs for potential new homebuyers, Redlinger said.

The recommendations will be brought to the City Council in May and June, he said.

They in-clude reducing street widths, a possible new street classification and clarifying policies on sidewalks and engineering fees.

Mark Vanyo, a Realtor and broker-owner with Coldwell Banker First Realty, said such changes “would definitely be welcome.” Moorhead battles other cities in the metro area to attract new residents, and reducing special assessments is needed “because that’s killing new construction a lot of times,” Vanyo said.

Moorhead has seen a marked decrease in housing starts in the past few years, which Mayor Mark Voxland blamed on the economic recession and three consecutive years of disruptive spring floods.

The number of residential units built in Moorhead dropped from 412 in 2008 to 161 last year, the lowest level in a decade, city statistics show.

The first quarter of this year also got off to a slow start, with only seven residential building permits issued.

Construction on single-family detached homes – often used as a gauge of housing industry health – also crawled along in the first quarter, with three homes built, compared with 13 in 2010.

But Voxland, an electrical contractor, said there are signs housing activity is picking up.

A 2011 housing study by Maxfield Research found that in the next few years, Moorhead has projected demand for more than 400 owner-occupied units, more than 200 rental units and more than 600 units for seniors, said Scott Hutchins, the city’s community services director.

“The investment in Moorhead in residential construction is a sound investment,” he said.

To attract new residents, the city is stepping up its marketing efforts, including a new website, www.makeMoorheadhome.com.

Print and electronic ads also are planned, and officials talked Wednesday about creating a one-page list of advantages to living in Moorhead to present to prospective homebuyers.

Hutchins said he’s hopeful state lawmakers will approve a bill that would allow Moorhead to resume offering a two-year property tax exemption on the first $200,000 of value on a new single-family home. Fargo and West Fargo offer similar incentives.

Moorhead’s ability to offer the incentive expired Dec. 31, but the bill would make it retroactive to Jan. 1. Also included are exemptions for multifamily units and qualified improvements to existing homes.

Officials on Wednesday also highlighted Moorhead’s flood protection and two major projects planned in south Moorhead: the Sanford Moorhead Campus, slated to open in mid-summer 2014, and a new building and campus for Park Christian School, which hinges on funding.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528

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