Decatur is finally seeing signs of the residential growth it’s craved for two decades, and officials believe the city should get to enjoy new subdivisions in 2021.
Seven new subdivisions with 10 lots each or more, with plans for more than 450 homes, have been through the city approval process in the past year and a half.
Three subdivisions, River Road Manor and River Road Estates, both off Old River Road, and Legacy Cove off Point Mallard Drive Southeast, should see new homes popping up as early as spring.
The developers of the three subdivisions said last week they’re behind because of rain in the fall and early winter. All said they’ve pre-sold a few planned houses.
“It’s just not going as we would like because we’ve had so much rain,” said Howard Morris, who with his family is building River Road Manor.
The city now hopes to continue the momentum. All believe these first homes will sell quickly because of the heavy demand for new homes.
“We’re looking at possible growth in the area, especially with the Mazda Toyota plant (under construction in Limestone County) and other new companies opening,” Morris said.
Jack Fite, of Fite Building Co., serves on a Decatur-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce committee focused on residential growth. He said the new developments “are a big part of capturing early the people who are coming to this area.”
Fite believes people who rent or buy in Decatur will stay here because they will find out how much the city offers.
“Even though we’re building new homes, our cost of living and land is much less,” Fite said, compared to most neighboring communities.
Fite also thinks a Sixth Avenue streetscape plan, scheduled to be unveiled this year, will beautify the city entrance and attract more newcomers.
“I’m optimistic based on the fact that our population is growing, our city is growing,” said Decatur Mayor Tab Bowling. Construction, including residential building, “continues to impress us,” he said. “In my neighborhood, where we’ve lived since ’05, four new homes are being built. These are $300,000 to $400,000 homes being built.”
The Howard Morris family is working on the 19.75-acre subdivision River Road Manor with 58 single-family residential lots. Howard Morris said they’re hopeful for mid-February but he really expects it to be “early spring at best” before the first houses are finished.
Brothers Charles Morris and David Morris are developing River Road Estates adjacent to their uncle’s new subdivision off Old River Road.
The brothers’ first phase will feature 19 single-family homes on lots of a minimum of 7,000 square feet, 36 town houses and a large common area, on 12.26 acres. They have 91.16 acres, so they’re also planning 48 more homes in one or more later phases.
Jeff Parker and Land Services LLC plan to build the two-phase Legacy Cove subdivision with 74 homes on 29.64 acres off Point Mallard Drive Southeast.
However, he admitted he’s been frustrated with the delays, particularly by the rain.
“I don’t know when we’ll start having homes,” Parker said. “I thought we would have some already but now it looks like it’s going to be spring.”
Two of the new subdivisions had non-weather issues that held them up.
Howard Morris had to wait until Decatur Utilities built an almost $1 million, 3,000-foot sewer main extension that will serve River Road Manor as part of an agreement with the city.
Parker had to have a contractor bore under Point Mallard Drive to connect to the city sewer line for Legacy Cove.
Charles Morris said last week that River Road Estates' first homes, listed at between $180,000 and $220,000, may also by ready by spring. Davidson Homes is building and selling the subdivision, he said.
Parker is also developing a 30-acre subdivision for Wilshire LLC on Central Avenue Southwest, north of Poole Valley Road. However, he said last week he doesn’t plan to start this subdivision until Legacy Cove is finished.
Site work will begin soon for 59 single-family homes off 14th Avenue Southwest, north of Douthit Street.
“The first homes should be finished in six months,” said John Plunk, the attorney for Maund Family LLC, which is developing the lots. “That’s our target. Then the next phase would be 40 homes.”
Other subdivisions in the planning stages include:
• 10.97 acres off McEntire Lane.
• 4.97 acres at the end of Apsley Way with 12 lots.
• 12 residential lots in a second phase of Manor Park at the end of Apsley Way Southwest. Developer Clete Blankenship built the initial phase of Manor Park subdivision in 2006 in the Chapel Hill area with plans for more, but the 2008 recession put those plans on hold.
• Blankenship plans to start a roughly 40-home Phase 3 of the Manor Park subdivision next summer.
Frank Pate, president of the Greater Morgan County Builders Association, said Decatur also has a number of custom-built homes under construction in random spots as builders try to meet the demand.
“I don’t know anybody who's not busy,” Pate said.
Chamber Vice President of Development Crystal Brown said the new houses can’t be built fast enough, especially with inventory down 42%, demand up 14% and prices up 8% last month.
“It’s definitely a seller’s market,” Brown said. “The inventory just isn’t there.”
She said Mazda Toyota Manufacturing in Limestone County and the FBI’s second headquarters being built in Huntsville will bring more people to live in Decatur.
“A 25-minute commute to Huntsville will be nothing to what some of those workers are accustomed to in Washington,” Brown said about the FBI expansion. “Our low housing costs and property taxes will be attractive to them.”
Low interest rates, at or below 3%, are a big reason developers, builders and real estate agents are busy.
Pate said COVID-19 is affecting supplies of building materials and lumber prices are high.
“It’s winter time and that’s always a hard time for suppliers,” Pate said. “Hopefully, things will improve in the spring.”
Pate commended the previous City Council for approving the sewer extension for the Morris development. He said that opened up the city for more development. Two developers are using that extension while other see that now is a good time to build in the area.
Pate said there are other areas in the city where city leaders will need to be willing to add sewer, if there’s demand.
However, the Morris sewer extension depleted the water sales account, funded by Decatur Utilities water sales to other communities, that city leaders planned to use for development.
Bowling said the fund is not growing quickly enough because water sales have deteriorated. The fund has a balance of $483,000 after only making $20,340 in each of the last two years.
“We need to find a new funding source,” Bowling said.
Fite said the city needs new apartments in addition to new homes to attract the young professionals.
“Young people don’t immediately want a home,” Fite said. “Right now, we’re losing people to Huntsville because of apartments. Once they live in a place where they make friends, go to church and school, they tend to stay there.”
The city has a consultant working on a new zoning plan, and city leaders said that could help growth. Planning Commission Chairman Kent Lawrence said the mere existence of a new zoning plan will help.
“If a developer looks at our current zoning book, he will think this city is behind the times,” Lawrence said.
The mayor and Lawrence said the new zoning code is particularly needed in the Decatur-annexed portion of Limestone County.
“It’s a blank slate,” Bowling said.
Fite said the new zoning will show builders where they can build, especially in Limestone County.
“We’ve got a great opportunity (in Limestone County) to build a community like Providence," Fite said, referring to a mixed-use development in Huntsville.
Based on residential development in Limestone County generally, the prospects appear to be good.
In the latest city data, the Athens Planning Commission has given final plat approval for 555 residential lots, which means building permits may be pulled, and 1,601 lots have received preliminary plat approval, which means grading and improvements to the subdivision may occur.
In Limestone County, the commission has given final approval for 446 residential lots in the unincorporated part of the county. That’s up from 281 in 2018 and 311 in 2019.
“We’re anticipating a lot of growth,” said Limestone County Commission Chairman Collin Daly. “We’re blessed to have the growth because if you’re not growing, you’re dying.”