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Cities boom with residential growth

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by Steve Vert

SBJ Contributing Writer

A short drive in nearly any direction can provide an indication of the amount of residential development popping up around Springfield.

But it takes a close look at the number of building permits issued for single-family residences in the cities that surround Springfield to appreciate the changes taking place as nearby Ozark, Nixa, Republic and Willard continue to grow at breakneck speed.

"New construction is where it's at right now," said Michelle Cantrell, an agent for Carol Jones, Realtors. "People are really leaning in that direction. I believe that will continue as long as current conditions, things like low interest rates and buyer incentive plans, remain in place."

Cantrell, who has specialized in new construction for the past two years, said sales of new, single-family homes in the cities that ring Springfield have been great for the past year.

"Lots of times we see a slowdown in winter," she said. "But this year we've seen no indication of that."

The most popular models, Cantrell added, seem to be three-and four-bedroom homes in the $70,000 to $80,000 range. That portion of the market, she said, is fairly slow in Springfield right now.

"It's tougher to find a new house in that price range inside Springfield," Cantrell said. "The biggest reason, I believe, is the price of lots. They're more expensive in Springfield."

Cantrell said there are existing homes in that price range, but added that "with new construction, people can buy more house for their money." Also, "with new construction, they can pick their own colors and floor plans."

And even though the lot sizes for many new homes in the $70,000 to $80,000 range tend to be smaller, Cantrell said buyers don't seem to mind.

"A lot of people buying homes in this range are young couples and single women," he said. "They want to get into a new, maintenance-free house. They don't really want the big yard to care for. With their schedules, they're just too busy."

Cantrell said she doesn't want to create the impression that more expensive homes aren't being built and sold they are.

Also, "There is rural development money to help out in places like Republic, Willard and Ozark," Cantrell said. "And incentives like those attract people. They can come in with no money down and get into a new home."

In 1998, permits for new homes in Ozark increased 33 percent, giving Nixa's neighbor to the east a substantial edge.

"One of the main things driving our growth is our location between Springfield and Branson," said Al Gonzales, a building code inspector for the city of Ozark.

In 1996, Nixa issued a record 350 single-family home permits. Since then, numbers have declined. There has been speculation that the downturn in single-family home construction within Nixa's city limits took place because growth outdistanced existing infrastructure.

City leaders, like Planning and Development Manager Brian Bingle, disagree.

"We don't know what caused the spike, unless it was that someone introduced a product, like the entry-level homes in the Forest Park development, that there was a significant demand for," Bingle said. "But we do have an adequate supply of water and sewer. And we're also focusing some of our attention on existing infrastructure within the inner city."

Despite the fact that numbers are down, Bingle is optimistic about the future. Two factors three planned subdivisions totaling more than 600 new homes and strong commercial growth fuel that belief.

"Strictly speaking residential, we're back to where we probably were before 1996," Bingle said. "But we're at 109 percent for commercial growth. I believe the population of Nixa is at a critical mass where we'll be capable of supporting vital community commercial activities."

To the west, the 32 percent increase in the number of single-family permits issued by Republic last year has everything coming up houses. And it's likely that the trend will continue, said City Planner Randall Whitman, pointing to 16 active subdivisions and another half-dozen, totaling about 345 homes, in the planning stage.

"We're seeing a trend in which about 70 percent of the new houses are under $90,000," Whitman said. "We're seeing lots of first-time buyers, young couples and elderly people. We get a lot of those here in Republic."

Whitman said he feels the city, which has a new wastewater treatment plant and elementary school in the works, has identified and dealt with the growth issue.

"We understand the need to get it right for the future," Whitman said. "To be sure that what we're getting in these new developments is sustainable."

But when studying the numbers of building permits issued during 1998, it's the increased growth in Willard that's likely to catch the eye. The number of single-family permits more than tripled from the previous year to 115. That number is not extremely high, but the trend is continuing in 1999. So far, records show Willard neck-and-neck with last year's leader, Ozark.

"We haven't had the type of growth that other cities have had," said Joe Cosby, Willard's mayor. "But because we're isolated by the airport zones, many people feel they'll be protected from Springfield's urban sprawl, and they're interested in moving out this way."

The excellent reputation of Willard's schools also draws interest in the community, which has worked hard in recent years to upgrade existing water and wastewater treatment systems, Cosby said.

However, Cosby pointed to two factors that might limit the city's future growth: Further annexation on the sides of the city away from the airport zones will require developers to build lift stations in order to extend sewer service[[In-content Ad]]

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