The Douglas City Council on Monday approved the annexation of the 7 Trails development by Wagonhound Land & Livestock, despite ranting going on on social media, some in-person objections and even some legitimate concerns about water needs and the city’s ability to provide utility and other services to that big a development.
In the end, the council did the right thing.
7 Trails, regardless of how you feel about owner Art Nicholas or the loss of agricultural lands to housing and commercial sprawl, is good for Douglas now, but more importantly, it is good for our community for the next couple of decades. A community cannot survive if it fails to grow, to evolve and to provide for its residents. The city government itself can only do so much, the rest – the majority of that, in fact – must come from the private sector, from the Art Nicholases of the world who are willing and able to put up the cash necessary to fulfill a vision of the future.
Yes, he stands to make money, possibly a lot of it, from 7 Trails. Isn’t that what a free market economy and democracy is all about? We say, more power to him if he does, but he’s also the one taking the risk of losing money, a lot of it, if 7 Trails fails to deliver on its promises. Wagonhound has the impetus to make sure that doesn’t happen, but it is still a risk most of us wouldn’t take.
Meanwhile, our community and our county stand to gain in huge ways, some of which no one can yet foresee. Some we can, and those are impressive:
• Housing. With a giant part of our workforce living outside of the county (some independent estimates now say upwards of 50 percent of our workers are not residents), the demand for housing has never been higher. 7 Trails promises housing that working people can afford, followed by more expensive housing down the road. Both will free up even less expensive housing in other parts of Douglas and nearby rural areas.
• Workforce. Douglas is plagued by a lack of workers for retail, restaurants, manufacturing and, in some cases, even energy fields. That is not a new problem. We have been hamstrung by that since the last boom. More housing means more families, which means more people – adults and teens – to fill those jobs. With a qualified, readily available workforce, more businesses of all kinds – manufacturing, retail, restaurants and service industry, among them – are more likely to move here. One of the biggest hurdles of attracting new business is our lack of workforce, which is a reflection of a lack of housing. 7 Trails and other developments going on around the community are the answer to that.
• This provides an opportunity for Douglas to play a role in its own future. The new Douglas Recreation Center is proposed for the 7 Trails development. Wagonhound is offering a multimillion dollar gift of land and infrastructure. Sure, it would be a gigantic benefit for Wagonhound to have the rec center there, but we get the infrastructure paid for, the land for free and a promise for more free land if the rec center needs it in the future. In total, Wagonhound is offering the community as much as $4.5 million in land and infrastructure. If voters approve the new rec center on May 5, it would be a win-win.
• More commercial space. Part of 7 Trails involves retail/restaurant/hotel developments. Douglas needs a larger variety of commercial enterprises. With more choices for shoppers, less money will flow out of town. Right now, “leakage” of shopping from here to Casper alone is a mammoth percentage of our community’s economy. Keeping more of that here is critical to weathering downturns in the economy and determining our own economic destiny. We understand there are tradeoffs, some of which impact existing businesses, including this newspaper, but for the health of the community in the long term, it is the right move.