Sumter may need to take its building foot off the gas pedal in one part of the city and focus on redevelopment in another part, according to an independent consultant's housing study.
Eric Halvorsen, a vice president with Boston-based RKG …
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Eric Halvorsen, a vice president with Boston-based RKG Associates Inc., presented attending members from the public on Tuesday with the results of a housing study the firm conducted for the city. Earlier in the day, the study results were presented to Sumter City Council in a closed-to-the-public executive session.
The western part of the city has seen fast growth with annexations and new neighborhoods springing up since about 2000, Halvorsen said during the public presentation at City Centre, which is next to the Sumter Opera House on North Main Street downtown.
Accompanying that growth in land have been small increases in population, leading to what is currently about 1,400 individual lots in existing subdivisions inside city limits without residential structures.
For Sumter, Halvorsen said, that's about 10 years' worth of development already in the pipeline.
He attributed some of those need-to-be-built-out lots to misconceptions of Shaw Air Force Base-headquartered U.S. Army Central's impact in terms of numbers of soldiers in Sumter from the last round of Base Realignment and Closure in the 2000s.
He and his firm recommend the city undertake a growth-management strategy and slow down further annexations in the western area of the city. It doesn't help the city from a cost standpoint when it dedicates services - utilities, police and fire - to new developments that then see less than a 50% build out, he said.
Different challenges - vacancies and blighted housing - exist more to the east, an area of the city that has older housing and includes the downtown area.
Redevelopment efforts are often gradual and in stages, and Halvorsen admitted that wholesale changes are generally challenging.
The city recently completed its first Downtown Master Plan, for which it commissioned another firm to make a blueprint for downtown's Central Business District detailing potential future land use, including new and redevelopment, based off public input. A major result of that process was the want and need for about 400 residential units, from apartments to townhouses to single family homes, to usher in a next round of revitalization.
He recommends city officials look more into specific neighborhoods with vacancy challenges and try to figure out their potential infrastructure investment needs, funding capabilities and how a neighborhood plan could come together.
Overall, the city has a vacancy rate of 14% for housing units to include owner-occupied and rentals. More prosperous metropolitan areas with more jobs and less poverty are currently in the 8% to 10% range, Halvorsen said. Vacancies are predominantly in the eastern portion of the city, he said.
Sumter City-County Planning Director George McGregor said a number of team players will take next steps to participate in neighborhood action plans, including his department, community development, the city's Housing Authority and codes enforcement.
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