The City of Norfolk has many tools at its disposal as it continues to grow in population and jobs, but among the most important ones are those that serve as figurative road maps to guide growth.
City engineer Steven Rames points to several things that guide growth in Norfolk, including housing studies and the city’s comprehensive development plan. But there’s also like a master 10-year plan for both water and sewer development.
“When you’re looking out into the future on where the community’s going to grow, there’s a lot of experience that has to go into that — just how is your community going to develop?” Rames said. “You have to look at your transportation corridors ... the general topography of the land and how you are going to be able to expand sewer and water. Then you make some guesses as to how your retail corridors are going to expand and where your residential corridors are going to expand — and do your best working with a variety of consultants to lay out a plan to go about 10 years, typically, for that growth.”
Of all the tools and document available to help guide decision-making, the city’s comprehensive plan is the touchstone that the city returns to over and over again.
“When anybody comes in with a proposed project, we always look at our comprehensive plan,” Rames said. “We have these pre-planning meetings where anybody can come in and present their project to us.”
Andy Colvin, Norfolk’s city administrator and economic development director, echoes Rames’ sentiments about the value of the comprehensive plan.
“We try to follow that as best as we can,” Colvin said. “That helps provide a guide for where growth should take place and where it can take place.”
Another tool the city has available is annexation, both for residential and business growth. And when areas are actually annexed, the city’s two-mile extraterritorial jurisdiction also expands.
“Annexations are one of the tools we have,” Rames said. “We don’t really do developments outside of city or get involved in developments that are outside city limits. ... Fountain Point, Medelman’s (Lake) and Blackberry Heights — all of these are adjacent to the city limits and are being annexed into the city as a function of the development. That is how we grow the city footprint.”
Along those lines, the city occasionally has annexation studies conducted, and did so just recently, Colvin said.
“That was something that was directed and guided by the mayor and city council,” Colvin said. “They really wanted to look at where (it made) the most sense to grow the city’s boundaries in the future. It’s not going to be a study that’s going to require the city to do that. What it’s really going to do is tell a story about where it makes the most sense.”
Another tool more often utilized by the city as it seeks to grow Norfolk is tax-increment financing (TIF), which is used for business and residential growth. The extra revenues from a TIF property once developed go toward paying off bonds that initially fund the infrastructure improvements to the property.
“TIF is really intended, in the state of Nebraska, to be an urban renewal tool to help take areas that are a challenge — maybe infrastructure is failing or maybe infrastructure isn’t adequate there to serve what uses could be,” Colvin said. “Really, it’s a matter of taking property that does not generate a lot of property-tax revenue and turning it into a project or an area that does generate property-tax revenue.”
TIF can only be utilized inside the city limits so any potential TIF area outside the city limits has to be annexed.
“Certainly there are areas (where) you need redevelopment,” Colvin said. “That’s where tax-increment financing really comes into play in helping those areas that might be a little bit more of a challenge to get infrastructure. If there are demolition costs and sitework that become more of challenge, that’s where tax-increment financing can really come into play as a great tool.”
The city also uses other growth tools like paving districts, water districts and sewer districts, including sewer connection districts.
“Those are mechanisms that allow us to go in and do smaller projects,” Rames said. “Most of our developments, we set up a paving district, water district and sewer district within there. Legacy Bend would be an example of that. We work with the developer to install and design — get the roads, sewers and waters installed. As the lots are sold, those districts are paid off.”
The sewer connection district is a different twist on a sewer district. Unlike traditional sewer districts that automatically bill landowners by the foot of sewer utility, in a sewer connection district, the landowner does not pay until he or she connects to the sewer.
“It’s really a deferral of the assessment cost in a connection district,” Rames said. “We don’t do those very often — every project’s looked at separately to see which tool fits that project, which makes the most sense for those landowners in that particular area. We would probably use something different in a highly-developed area (as opposed to) an area that’s not very developed.”
The city occasionally uses eminent domain as it grows, but it is not a preferred tool, Rames said.
“It’s a tool that we have in our toolbox,” Rames said. “It’s probably the last tool that we pull out — and only if we have to. Usually that has to do with acquisition of easements or the acquisitions of fee title on property if we need to do some kind of improvement to expand a street, extend a street or improve a corner — and we need a little bit of right of way in there.”
Other tools the city looks to as it grows are extraterritorial jurisdiction, the platting process, subdivision standards, planned developments and conditional-use permits, among others.
“There are a lot of different tools, depending on the category you’re looking at, from an economic development standpoint,” Colvin said. “There are a lot of state programs that we utilize to help provide incentives for businesses or industries that might be looking to come here. Certainly the state also has grant opportunities and funding sources for workforce housing. We utilize state partnerships — and regional partnerships as well — for workforce. Those all play into helping the community grow and helping your industries grow.”