For the last 20 years, the population of Preston has been declining. In 2000, it stood at 1,429 residents, but it has been declining at the rate of approximately 100 people a decade.
On September 20, a housing summit was held in Preston to discuss housing issues and future plans for the City of Preston. Tickets for the event were sold out, with 75 people attending as guests. Cathy Enerson, who has contracted with the city for 11 years as its CEDA director, explained that some of the recent efforts to increase housing in Preston have included creating a livability tab on the Chamber of Commerce website, organizing a housing committee, uncovering the city’s assets as they relate to housing, procuring grant and EDA funding for maps and concept plats, and more.
Currently, the population of Preston is 1,299. The average commute time for residents is just over 24 minutes, and the median age is 40.3 years old. On June 4, 2018, the City of Preston adopted a Housing Needs Assessment. Phase one of the plan was to create a working group, which has been operating for a year now.
Co-chair of the Preston Housing Committee and EDA board member Jon DeVries pointed out that there are around 800 people who work in Preston, but live elsewhere. Forty-five percent of them said they would move to Preston if they could find housing. Another 400 people live in Preston, but work outside of the city while less than 200 people live and work in Preston. “That’s indicative of a limited housing supply,” DeVries said. A survey conducted by CEDA indicated that while there is an interest in housing in Preston, there is a lack of it. A number of survey takers noted that they would be inclined to buy a house if single-family housing was available. The need for housing will only increase over the next 10-15 years. Destination Medical Center plans to add 28,000 new workers by 2034, but only 50-55% want to live in Rochester. In addition to employees, DMC will also attract retirees to the area who want access to the medical care. The price of homes in Rochester went up 10.6% last year and has risen 6.8% already this year. With those rising prices, people will be looking elsewhere for affordable housing.
A goal has been set to increase the population to 1,450 by 2030 instead of continuing the current trend of losing 100 during that time frame. That would mean creating 167 new housing units, including the 54 units that will be a part of the veterans home. With that growth, Preston would like to see an expansion of the range of housing types, serving those with low to moderate income and those with disabilities. In addition to more housing, the Housing Committee would like to continue expanding industrial opportunities and tourism within Preston. EDA member Eric Topness reviewed a map of the city with the audience, that identified enough sites within the incorporated limits of Preston to build all 167 units.
Gabby Kinneberg, who is the director of tourism and the director of the Preston Chamber of Commerce, introduced a new livability tab on the chamber’s website. The goal of the tab is to be an information hub where those interested in Preston can discover the town and its amenities. The main items highlighted on the tab will be housing, childcare and education, transportation, employment, healthcare, and recreation as well as the community’s veteran friendly rating. Information on Preston’s housing incentives will also be found on the tab. Kinneberg pointed out that an eyecare clinic, grocery store, medical clinic, etc. can all be found in Preston among other services and resources. The area also has a variety of leisure activities. “It’s things that we think are obvious, but we really want to point these out to people that are interested,” Kinneberg stated.
Vice president of Judisch and Judisch Enterprises, Jamie Judisch spoke about a 36-unit apartment building that his company recently constructed in Pine Island. He felt that the project gave him a good perspective on how a similar one would work in Preston. The apartments have been drawing interest from surrounding communities and are popular among snowbirds and people who are looking to downsize, which frees up bigger homes for young families. “I don’t know exactly how it would work in Preston, but it has been interesting to see how well it has worked in Pine Island,” Judisch commented. He is interested in building an 18-unit apartment building in Preston, which would cost approximately $2 million to develop.
City Administrator Joe Hoffman represented the Preston council and mayor as none of them were able to make it to the Summit. He noted that they have been talking about Preston’s housing needs for a decade now and are ready to get the ball rolling on the housing situation. Hoffman also spoke about the costs of building a home in Preston. In Rochester, construction costs including permits, property tax, sales tax, utility set-ups, etc. can come to almost $6,000 while the same services in Preston are less than $1,000. “You can get more home for less money here,” he said, pointing out that Preston is builder-friendly with no plan reviews or city inspections and shall-issue building permits.
Local contractor Andy Bunge spoke about his experience building in Preston. He has constructed homes in the area since 1991 and appreciates how willing the council is to work with him on variances and permits. “In the City of Preston, they’ve been very flexible, very willing to work with you,” he said. “Overall, it’s been a very wonderful experience.” He urged other contractors to consider Preston as well, saying, “Preston’s a great place to build so I encourage you to do it.”