Vidalia leaves home buyers without available space

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 23, 2009

Vidalia has a problem. Little crime, low taxes and a good school district make people want to live there.

Most cities might not consider that a problem, but Mayor Hyram Copeland said he admits it’s a weak area for the city.

“If we have one flaw, it’s that we don’t have a lot of adequate space to build housing, and we have a critical shortage of apartments,” he said.

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Real estate agent Sybil Wroten said that, when someone comes to her asking about property in Vidalia, she asks them what price range they are looking for but tells them there’s not much real estate from which they can choose in the city.

“It doesn’t really matter what price range they’re looking for, there isn’t anything available,” Wroten said.

Some developers have discussed building apartments, but no solid decisions have been made yet, Copeland said.

“We have people coming in who don’t want to build a house,” he said. “We have almost zero rental property, commercial or residential.”

To the east, the city has developed as far as it can and is blocked from building any more by the Mississippi River.

A single family owns most of the property north of the city and is not interested in selling, Copeland said.

To the west and south, the city is for all intents and purposes land-locked by farmland that is still being actively farmed or zoned for industrial development.

While there has been some talk about re-zoning some of the industrial land, right now there are no direct plans to do so, Copeland said.

The only major housing development being done in Vidalia currently is that of The Glades subdivision, which is located on land that was, until recently, part of a property that was being actively farmed.

Some infrastructure for a new subdivision on that land had been laid out several years ago, but the idea had been abandoned until developer Bradley Harrison and his partners decided to pick up the work.

“I decided to do it because there is a need there,” Harrison said. “The city needs houses, period.”

Another property adjacent to The Glades property is available, but Harrison said he doesn’t know if he will be able to develop it as well because someone else has an option to buy it for the time being.

The issue of annexation has been considered, but for more land to come into the city the property owners would have to petition to have the municipal limits moved to them, City Manager Ken Walker said.

“It would actually be to their advantage to do so, because the amount their fire insurance costs would drop would be less than the costs of their property taxes,” Walker said.

The city already has plans to annex the land the new municipal complex and recreation centers will be located on, but that won’t directly address housing.

It will, however, extend the city limits further, allowing other property owners the chance of having their land annexed by virtue of the fact that their property would then be adjacent to the city limits.

If a given area was to be annexed, though, the residents would have to have their infrastructure — things like curbs and ditches — brought up to city specifications, Copeland said.

And even then, the homes that come with those neighborhoods are occupied.

“Right now, we are locked on limited space,” Copeland said.

But Walker said he doesn’t believe that will be the case forever.

“Times change, and the uses (of land) change,” he said.