The Morris family believes so much in their planned 55-home development, which they’ve named River Road Manor, that they’re already planning a second phase.
The family, which consists of Howard Morris, his brother Jack, son Dennis Morris, and Jack’s son, Jimmy, plans to build a 75-home subdivision on adjacent land after River Road Manor is complete.
“This is only phase 1,” Jimmy Morris said of River Road Manor. “We’ve got a possible second addition planned out to Deere Road.”
Howard Morris said his family is “just waiting on the city” to approve his plans and a 3,800-foot sewer extension to start the 19.4-acre subdivision off Old River Road in Southeast Decatur.
Howard Morris’ nephews, Charles Morris and David Morris, through Morris Holdings, sold the 19.4-acre parcel for River Road Manor out of 119.4 acres they own in the area.
Howard Morris said his nephews plan to sell the remainder of the land. His family group does not yet have an option for phase 2.
Mayor Tab Bowling said he believes the Morris family development will jump-start residential development in Decatur. He expects more developers will follow when they see the family’s success.
City Director of Development Wally Terry said the city’s subdivisions approved since the 2008 housing crash are full or close to filling up, although some have access to adjacent land for expansion.
“There is minimal property that’s already been platted available,” he said.
There’s property available for large residential developments in the Burningtree area in Southeast Decatur, near Austin High School in Southwest Decatur, and in the city’s annexed area of Limestone County, but the city will need more money to run sewer to these areas.
Decatur Chief Financial Officer John Andrzejewski said the River Road Manor sewer extension will leave only about $100,000 in a fund created for economic development. Additional extensions will likely require spending money from the undetermined fund account, going to the bond market or using a special funding mechanism like a tax increment finance district.
In a TIF, the city uses revenues generated by the anticipated increase in property values created by the project to pay for the project's infrastructure.
Howard Morris said he doesn’t think his family is making a gamble on the project, even though other developers have been unwilling to build large projects in Decatur in recent years. The Morris family is willing to guarantee to the city it will build 40 homes at River Road Manor in return for sewer, or pay the city a penalty of 10% of the cost of the sewer.
“With the employment outlook in this area, I think we’re safe in what we’re doing,” Howard Morris said.
The Morrises are a family of educators who have been building in the Decatur area for years. They do the construction themselves, with some trusted subcontractors, and they’ve built more than a half-dozen Decatur developments, either as subdivisions or town homes.
Their most recent project was on Indian Hills East, a town-home development on the west side of Alabama 67 in Decatur but near Priceville. Some of the other projects were The Glenns of Burningtree and Burningtree Meadows. Jimmy Morris built Cypress Cove.
Howard Morris, a former Priceville High principal, built his first home in 1961 in the West Point community in eastern Morgan County. He is the leader of the group and will be acting as the building superintendent.
Jack Morris retired from Monsanto after working for years as construction coordinator, so he will also be on site during construction. He joked that he “does whatever Howard tells me to do.”
Jimmy Morris is the group’s financial man “who is particularly good at estimating,” Howard Morris said.
Dennis Morris is a partner with experience in electricity, but Howard Morris said he’s too busy as the Falkville High School principal to participate in the project. However, Dennis Morris’ son, Peyton Morris, will join the work crew after he graduates from Auburn University with his master’s degree in building science.
“He’s already had some good ideas,” Howard Morris said.
Howard Morris said he plans to sell the homes himself, although he may later use a real estate agent.
Colleen Martin of Colleen Martin Drafting on Bank Street Northeast created a number of home designs that will give potential buyers choices for the subdivision. The smallest homes, at 1,600 square feet, will start at $180,000 and the list price will increase with size.
“It’s about what the people want, and we’re not going to sacrifice quality,” Howard Morris said. “With some choices, we could change the front three or four times and people would never know it’s the same house.”
The Morris family is ready to start building River Road Manor, but they're waiting on the city to finish plans for the sewer extension from the west side of Alabama 67 to the Morris family property.
A judge on Wednesday held a hearing on a single sewer easement and has 10 days to issue a ruling. The city and landowner are debating over less than $5,000, Terry said.
Terry said the city will then seek bids on the sewer project, which is estimated to cost just under $1 million. If these bids hit the mark or don’t go too far over budget, the Morris family and the city already have a plan in which the property will be annexed into the city and the city will build the sewer.
If the sewer bids come in more than 10% over budget, the City Council could reject the bids.
Howard Morris said they plan to start on the subdivision’s infrastructure, like streets and gutters, and four to five spec homes while the city builds the sewer extension. They will connect the subdivision to the sewer extension when it’s complete.
But the Morris family has a plan B if the City Council doesn’t approve the sewer extension.
“If we get sewer, we will annex into the city,” Howard Morris said. “If we don’t, we’ll build in the county with septic tanks.”
The difference in sewer and septic “is negligible,” Howard Morris said, and Jim Morris said using sewer only adds about three more planned homes to the subdivision.
They said they love Decatur and Morgan County. It is cheaper to build in the county, but Jimmy Morris said customers prefer sewer over septic tanks so they’re willing to wait on starting construction.