​Sewanee Council Discusses Non-Resident Fees, Housing Questions

by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer

At the Oct. 28 meeting, the Sewanee Community Council discussed the option of higher municipal service fees for non-resident leaseholders and how to limit non-residents acquiring leaseholds. The council also heard updates on sidewalks, crosswalk lighting, and parks, and welcomed a new council representative.

Council representative Charles Whitmer revisited the September discussion about how to apportion the $600,000 cost of infrastructure for Domain-wide fiber optic Internet service. Whitmer proposed a 1 percent increase in the municipal service fee paid by all leaseholders would generate $72,000 annually, enough to pay for the infrastructure if spread over a 10-year period. The municipal service fee is based on the appraised value of the home on the leasehold. For a home valued at $200,000, the 1 percent increase would equal $200.

“There’s also an argument for non-resident second-home owners paying more,” Whitmer said. “Those who live here contribute in many ways.”

Council representative Eric Keen questioned whether assigning non-residents a higher percentage of the fiber optic infrastructure cost would mean increasing the percentage non-residents paid for other municipal services.

Superintendent of Leases Sallie Green said non-residents held 25 percent of the leaseholds. The total appraised value of Sewanee homes is $72 million. Green will research what percent of the $72 million represents non-resident homes, and subsequently, how much revenue would be generated by increasing the percentage assessed to non-residents.

Keen asked if there were arguments against treating non-residents differently. Council representative June Weber pointed out non-residents often served as trustees. Sewanee resident Dixon Myers noted many were alumni who made financial contributions.

In the subsequent discussion about the increase in non-resident home ownership, Whitmer pointed to the coincident increase in the cost of Sewanee homes. He cited a recent circumstance where the price increased $10,000 per month in the year the house was on the market.

“Non-residents are in a different pay scale from most of us,” observed council representative Phil White.

Nancy Berner said homes built on the 13 leaseholds recently released could only be sold to permanent residents, as was likewise the case in the Parson’s Green development. The leaseholds were first offered to University employees. Plans call for offering the unclaimed leaseholds to permanent residents.

Whitmer suggested releasing leaseholds for non-resident alumni to build on might take the pressure off the housing market.

Myers proposed limiting the percentage of non-resident homeowners in a geographic area, a neighborhood for example.

Berner suggested residents within a neighborhood could sign an agreement not to sell to non-residents.

Whitmer asked if homeowners could put a restriction on whom their home could be sold to, similar to a conservation easement.

Sewanee resident Sid Brown said, “As a person who values the full time residents around me and how they make my life better, I’d like help from you [the University].”

White proposed a “tax” on non-resident housing transactions.

Vice-Chancellor John McCardell stressed apportioning the cost of the fiber optic infrastructure and limiting sale of homes to non-residents were “complex issues.” He urged council representatives to seek input from their neighbors and constituents.

The council welcomed newly elected council representative Mary Priestley.

Whitmer will resign at the end of the semester to join his family in Germany. The council is authorized to appoint someone to serve out the remainder of his term.

Associate Vice President for Facilities Planning & Operations Austin Oakes updated the council on plans for a sidewalk on Tennessee Avenue in front of the School of Theology. A donor committed funds to enable the project to move forward.

Oakes also said five crosswalk sites in need of lighting had been identified as priorities.

Updating the council on the Parks Committee’s work, Myers said the soccer pavilion at the Youth Ballpark was recently renovated and the cost of addressing the lighting needs had dropped from $40,000 to $7,650. Henley Electric, the low bidder, would do the work.

Priestley raised a question about tree cutting in conjunction with the fiber optic infrastructure project.

Green explained a 20-foot right-of-way was critical to accommodate the high voltage wires. Trees outside the “safety zone” would be trimmed to conform to height restrictions. Trees would be planted outside the right-of-way to replace cut trees.