City Has Too Many Apartments

City Has Too Many Apartments HATTIESBURG, MS - A recent report commissioned by the Hattiesburg City Council confirms the assumptions of city leaders: Hattiesburg has too many apartments. According to the current draft of the Hattiesburg Area Rental Housing Survey, Hattiesburg's apartment vacancy rate has experienced a dramatic increase in just four years - up more than six times from 2.1 percent in 2005 to 13.4 percent in spring 2009.

The survey was conducted by the Department of Economic and Workforce Development at the University of Southern Mississippi between January and April.

The survey attributes the spike in vacancy to the troubled economy and the number of new multi-family units that have popped up in the area - including 1,600 in the past four years.

The report's findings now will make it harder for developers to prove the need for more apartments in areas zoned for single-family use, officials say.

"We need to remember... why we asked for this study to be done," said Council President Kim Bradley. "It was during a time when all these developers came asking (the city) for zoning changes to convert these areas designated as single-family to multi-family use."

In the past, one of the main criteria to have those zoning requests granted was for developers to establish a need for additional units in an area. "That doesn't stand up anymore," Bradley said. "There are plenty of places for people to live."

The city's need for more apartments, as it relates to zoning changes, also has led to a legal saga after a North Carolina development company sued the city after City Council denied its request for a zoning change for a tract of land in the Highlands neighborhood. The Highlands area is located in Bradley's district.

Residents in the neighborhood said the apartment growth along a street in their community - Beverly Hills Road - had begun to encroach upon the integrity of their once single-family atmosphere.

The case currently sits in the Mississippi Supreme Court, waiting a ruling on the appeal, filed by the city, to the June 5, 2008, decision from a circuit court judge that ruled in favor of the development company.

"The briefing from both sides was just completed about a month ago," city attorney Charles Lawrence said. Lawrence said he doesn't expect a ruling on the appeal until late fall.

Last summer, the council enacted a moratorium to cease apartment construction in areas that required a zoning change. The moratorium ended in January.

Bradley said he doubts the City Council will push for another moratorium in light of the survey's findings.

"If someone wants to come into an area already designated for multi-family use, more power to them," he said.

Council is set to review the current draft of the survey during its work session today.

The survey's draft identified 126 multi-family properties within the Hattiesburg area, which includes portions of Petal and Oak Grove.

The vacancy rate data was collected from 77 properties, the survey states.

"I think we talked to a large majority of the properties in the area," said Brian Richard, assistant professor in the Department of Economic and Workforce Development. "We talked to so many that I feel we got a pretty good estimate on what the vacancy rate is."

Richard said data wasn't collect from the remaining properties either because they could not be reached or didn't want to participate in the survey.

The 77 properties supply Hattiesburg with approximately 7,178 apartment units, according to the survey.

And the number of apartments is expected to increase by 576 once two of the city's major apartment complexes - The Lakes at Turtle Creek and Breckenridge Park on Classic Drive - come online. Both are currently under construction.

"Where are all those people going to come from?" Bradley said. "It's going to be very difficult for a developer to make an argument that he'll be able to stand up and prevail with zoning changes from now on."

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