The Converse County commissioners are applying for a multi-million dollar grant for infrastructure improvements to the John Lambert Subdivision on the south side of East Richards Street.

If approved, the state grant and county funds would be used to bring water, sewer and other basic infrastructure into the John Lambert Subdivision on the south side of East Richards, between the roadway and the interstate, to allow for commercial and housing developments, Commission Chairman Robert Short said.

A public hearing concerning the grant application to the Wyoming Business Council’s Business Ready Community (BRC) program will take place in the commissioners’ chambers Aug. 6 at 11:30 a.m.

While commissioners say they don’t really know the dollar amount they will put on the BRC grant application yet, it is estimated that the cost of the new infrastructure will be in the neighborhood of $6.5 million, according to Commissioner Jim Willox.

The Wyoming Business Council BRC grant program has approximately $4.5 million to allocate per quarter, so the county request will have to be below that threshold.

“We are still working through it. The city engineer did an estimate of cost and that’s the figure ($6.5 million) that the engineer came up with,” Willox said.

“Part of the reason the amount is high is because we will have to go upstream for both electrical and sewer, (which means going) off site. There’s a substation on Brownfield that I believe we will have to come back to, to get enough power to serve that area. There’s cost to get electric to the John Lambert site with enough capacity,” he explained.

The county plans to make the land more valuable for commercial, retail and residential development, Short said. The BRC program provides financing for publicly owned infrastructure that serves the needs of businesses and promotes economic development. The grant application is being written by The Enterprise staff.

“We’re gathering all of the information together and have yet to file the application,” The Enterprise Executive Director Cindy Porter said. Plans at this point include putting in basic infrastructure, such as electricity, sewer and natural gas lines.

“The concept was that it would be great to have retail or commercial on that side of the street – a row of commercial frontage. Behind that could be residential areas between there and the interstate, and perhaps larger areas for bigger homes. It would all depend upon who came in once the infrastructure is put into place for future development. There’s not a lot of places for Douglas to . . . grow,” she said.

“The property becomes much more viable once those things are put in. That infrastructure is necessary for the long-term development of the property, regardless of what is built there. Otherwise, it’s rangeland,” Short stated.

A section of the west end of the county-owned property is where the new recreation center and new hockey rink are proposed to be built, though neither is certain at this point. Short said if it happens, it would be a lucky coincidence. One is not tied or dependent on the other.

As to a time line, Short said, “As soon as we have the grant awarded, have the design work done and the bidding documents in place, the sooner we can work on it. The sooner we can get to work on it, the more likely potential developers will take an interest in it.”

Douglas has substantial housing needs, both for larger residential homes and for rental properties, he said, referring to a recently released housing study.

“Properties have to be developed for family homes. What we have now is not necessarily family-oriented,” he said. “We have a very low vacancy rate for rentals, I’m sure. Finding a rental usually happens through word-of-mouth. It’s very challenging. If we don’t have housing, we don’t have workers. We need more residential development in Converse County so people can call it home.”

Willox said the county and city get inquiries all the time, asking if the subdivision is developable.

“It isn’t ready yet but that’s why we’re applying for the grant,” Willox said. “People apply for grants all the time, sometimes they don’t get them. We’ll have to wait and see what happens.”

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