Port officials decide against senior housing

Lewiston project was proposed for site near Schweitzer facility

By ELAINE WILLIAMS of the Tribune

Senior housing won’t be built on 3 acres within the Port of Lewiston’s Business and Technology Park, a development where Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories is located.

Lewiston port commissioners rejected a proposal Wednesday from Thomas Development of Boise to construct about 50 housing units immediately northwest of Royal Plaza.

The decision came after a back-and-forth with Dick White, a Lewiston real estate broker representing Thomas Development. The discussion was part of a meeting at which a Nez Perce County taxpayer also questioned the $450,000 in property taxes the port receives each year.

The commissioners reached a consensus on the property issue without taking a vote. White said his client will look at other options in Lewiston, but may not be able to start until next year.

The community, the commissioners agreed, has a need for senior housing, and Thomas Development has a track record of constructing quality projects in Lewiston. The Troon Apartments on Juniper Drive, Tullamore Senior Apartments on Bryden Avenue and Turnberry apartments on Magnolia Street are among 75 projects the firm has completed in at least three Western states.

The challenge, Port Commissioner Mike Thomason said, is that very little land has been set aside for the high-tech, research and professional businesses that the Business and Technology Park has the infrastructure to handle. Property in the 44-acre district is dwindling, and only about 15 acres are left.

“There isn’t another niche like that unless you go to another community. … I’d like to maintain the Business and Technology Park for what it was created for,” he said.

At the same time, Port Commissioner Jerry Klemm said the number of living-wage jobs created by a project has to be a key factor in any choice the commissioners make.

Were the housing to proceed, future residents might object to a tenant going into the Business and Technology Park that was more in line with its intended purpose, said Port Manager David Doeringsfeld.

Each of those issues could be addressed, White said.

The port might be able to acquire more property near the Business and Technology Park and it would have more resources available to pursue its mission of employment growth if it had revenue from a land deal, he said.

A deed restriction could be created so that any complaints from residents of the building about future land sales in the Business and Technology Park wouldn’t be considered in official proceedings, White said.

The debate about senior housing followed a discussion about if the port should continue to collect property taxes.

“Why do you stay on the backs of taxpayers and property owners?” asked Rick Rupp, who owns a home in the Ten Mile Creek area along the Snake River in rural Nez Perce County.

The port uses the money to construct infrastructure, Doeringsfeld said, which according to a report being done by a University of Idaho economist, generates $9 in tax revenue for every dollar invested.

That explanation didn’t satisfy Rupp, who asked Doeringsfeld about how much money the port had on hand. The port has $5 million, partly because of recent land sales.

“You can take care of what you’re doing without this property tax,” Rupp said.

But Doeringsfeld said those dollars won’t go far, considering the port will need $5 million just to do upgrades at Harry Wall Industrial Park at the base of the Lewiston Hill.

“What we have right now is a philosophical debate,” Doeringsfeld said “Should the Port of Lewiston be involved in economic development? Because that’s where those monies are targeted to.”

Williams may be contacted at [email protected] or (208) 848-2261.