With a county-wide housing shortage projected at 5,000 in future, Pelican takes step toward filling demand  

How important is housing in the future of Otter Tail County and the general Pelican Rapids area? 

 Based on several events over the past couple weeks, housing is crucial.  The housing shortage was driven home Oct 2, when nearly 30 county, Pelican city, state and development officials gathered for a groundbreaking–on the high ground of a corn field west of town. 

The county has set a target of 5,000 units in coming years, in order to fill the workforce needs of the future–to replace an aging, retiring pool of employees across Otter Tail. 

“We’re now 36 units on our way to 5,000,” said Otter Tail  County  Commissioner Wayne Johnson, as he dug his golden shovel in the dirt and broke ground for the D.W. Jones and Company’s apartment complex, on the west edge of Pelican. 

Housing shortages were emphasized by everybody who spoke at the Pelican groundbreaking. 

“It’s critical,” said State House Rep. Bud Nornes, R-Fergus Falls.  “Housing is the number one issue we hear about down at the legislature.”

“We have a steep shortage…Today Pelican is taking a step to help reduce that shortage,” said Mayor Brent Frazier. 

In other news, comments and developments on the local housing front, over the past couple weeks:

• A county tax rebate of up to $5,000 or five years for new home owners has been approved, unanimously, by the Otter Tail commissioners. 

• Pelican councilmembers quickly set sights on a similar, local tax incentive program–offering prospective homeowners another “rebate”–on top of the county program. 

• For one of the first times ever, the Pelican city council met jointly with the city planning commission, with the discussion aimed almost entirely on housing.  

• A full-day “housing summit” has been called for Dec. 4 in Otter Tail County, and representatives from virtually every city, county, township and government agency are encouraged to attend, said Amy Baldwin, county economic development official,  who is focusing closely on housing-related  issues. 

• Even in outlying areas, there are efforts to open up traditional agriculture land to larger-lot rural-residential development.  Scambler Township, north of Pelican city, is in the process of reviewing its land use plans–with the prospect of “relaxing” the ordinance. The proposal, which could open up more rural areas to home building is controversial, however, with many residents concerned about loss of “rural character.” 

• Pelican’s West Central Turkeys, perhaps the county’s largest single industrial employer, has considered expanding the plant, plant manager Todd Kampstra said at a recent Rotary Club meeting. The biggest drawback from Jennie-O corporate approval is insufficient numbers of workers, said Kampstra.  Housing is a major factor in attracting new workers, and West Central submitted letters and information supporting the new, 36 unit complex. 

The difficulty in getting a housing project from the drafting table to the ground is reflected in the long process of bringing the 36 unit “Colony” apartment project to realty.  

By next fall, the 36 unit complex is expected to be open for renters–but it will be nearly four years in the making, by the time the first renter moves in. 

An uptick in interest rates; escalating construction and material costs; and a number of other factors required re-assembling the financing package twice. 

“It was a roller coaster,” said Skip Duchesneau, D.W. Jones.

Were it not for nearly $760,000 in state support for water-sewer-street extension, “we wouldn’t be here today.”

He also thanked the city council and city administrator Don Solga for “sticking with us” after the Pelican Rapids School Board declined to approve a tax abatement in school taxes for the project.  “We thought it was all over,” said Duchesneau.  But the council voted to pick up the school’s share of the abatement, at about $6,000 per year over the course of the abatement, which is expected to be in force between ten and 15 years.

“There’s been a lot of hurdles…but as a team, we got it done,” said Mayor Frazier. 

County Commissioner Johnson congratulated the city, adding that, “when we all come together and pull the rope in the same direction, this is what can happen.”

“To go a mile, you have to take the first step,” said Johnson. “The county really believes in housing as a serious issue…When we have community leaders like Pelican step up at the local level, it really goes a long ways.”