Value per acre – what did we learn?

During our Strong Towns discussion on Zoom last weekend, we looked over the three-dimensional value per acre map that group members developed. With property tax data from every parcel, we were able to see the highest-performing properties in the city.

In the map below, red properties are bringing in a lot, orange properties are somewhere in the middle, and yellow or green are non-taxable properties.

Parcels in Topeka are mapped by property tax per acre. Mapping tax per acre – rather than just total amount of property tax per property – shows our most valuable styles of development.

The most valuable building in Topeka is the Mills Building, at 901 S. Kansas Ave., which brings in more than $640,000 per acre per year for the city. It’s the highest point in the map above, and as you might have guessed, it’s right in the heart of downtown.

The second most valuable property in Topeka is the Hill’s office building at 8th and Van Buren.

Two things these buildings have in common? Office buildings on small lots with high building occupancy.

There are some other prosperous areas in Topeka, but one additional surprise was that the Westboro Mart shopping area at Huntoon and Oakley brings in more taxes per acre than Walmart on Wanamaker.

We also had some surprises looking at residential properties in Topeka. We first looked at the Rockfire development, east and south of Lake Shawnee at about 45th and Croco. These are large homes on cul-de-sacs, with contemporary construction, and large lot sizes. These big, modern houses bring in more than $6,000 per acre per year to the city.

Rockfire development – $6,000 per acre value to Topeka.

Conversely, homes in the Holliday Park neighborhood, which are mostly a century old, smaller houses, and on much smaller lots – bring in more than $8,000 per acre per year to the city.

Holliday Park – $8,000 per acre value to the city.

So, what did we learn?

Smaller, older homes in the middle of Topeka are more valuable to the city’s bottom line – than new development out on the fringe.

In addition, older buildings in the middle of downtown bring in more money per acre than anything in any other area of Topeka.

We have got to re-consider our development pattern in Topeka and Shawnee County and start making changes.

There’s even more to the value per acre discussion that we have not yet covered, which will show even more contrast between these two neighborhoods. We have only looked at revenue – we have not looked at the city’s costs to keep these properties functional. Because Holliday Park is in the middle of the central street grid, part of the original town, and because lot sizes are small – the city’s liability – its potential cost for maintenance of this neighborhood – is relatively small.

Because Rockfire is far away from sewer processing and water processing, these homes have many miles more of pipe to serve them than do homes in Holliday Park. In addition, there is much more square footage of street serving each house in Rockfire. Even at more than $6,000 per acre, the houses in Rockfire will never generate enough tax revenue in their lifetime to pay for replacement of the street they are built on.

The City of Topeka must do everything it can to encourage continued development in the middle of the city, and to discourage any development out on the edges of town.

The potential gains – or losses – become exponential.

What should we build in the next 50 years in Topeka? And how should we build?

This conversation is continuing in our group, and we would love to have your voice. Join the discussion at the Strong Towns community site, or in our local Facebook group.

Strong Towns Book Club – see ya on Zoom this Saturday

Zoom worked OK for our book club discussion a couple of weeks ago, so let’s try it again as we wrap up this book!

Here is the calendar event for this Saturday’s meeting.

Or, if you don’t need a calendar reminder, here is the Zoom link for Saturday at 10am:

We’ll be rounding out the book, going over the last two chapters, and making a plan for future discussions and group activities. Talk to you then!

Note: If you need help getting set up with Zoom, or if you want to do a practice run, please contact Karl.

What should the Governing Body do with its Capital Budget?

Downtown New York City? No, look closer. That’s Topeka.

We had a great Book Club meeting earlier this month! Discussion was lively and examples and anecdotes were plentiful.

For those of you following along with this process, we have the chance to contribute to Topeka’s future as a Strong Town – the City Council is currently discussing their Capital Improvement Plan (and Budget) for the next year. The Council will vote on the budget on April 7th, so the March 17th meeting might be a good time to comment.

If you’d like to speak at a meeting of the Governing Body, it’s easy! Call or email the City Clerk to get your name on the list. Meetings are held the first three Tuesdays of the month at 6pm. If you miss the next meeting and would like to email your council member, or the whole council, you can do that, too.

What would a Strong Town do with a Capital Budget?

  • The City and County would invest in a Value Per Acre study. We can only make good decisions with good information. If we don’t know exactly where we’re losing money on infrastructure and development, we’re likely to repeat past mistakes. Topeka needs to commission this study or use local experts to research this information.
  • No new roads. It would be nice to have a new street with more lanes and curbs and gutters and stormwater drains, but if the property taxes in the area aren’t funding the project – and won’t fully fund the maintenance and upkeep of the project – then it is too much. In some cases, existing streets should be scaled down to better fit what we can afford now – and what we’ll be able to afford in the future.
  • Make little bets. Spend money on the things that might just pay off in the long run. Neighborhood improvement projects, like sidewalk connections, crosswalks, and street lighting are all great examples of things that make a neighborhood more useful for everyone.
  • Dedicate the city to relentless maintenance of its existing infrastructure within the areas that fund themselves. We should be able to be proud of what we have built together. Now, let’s make sure it’s all looking as nice as possible. (But do the Value Per Acre study first.)
  • Observe where people in the community are struggling, and take the next immediate step – something we can do right away – to address that struggle. Repeat.

If that list sounds familiar, that’s because it’s all based on the Strong Towns Approach to Public Investment.

If you’re not feeling like getting involved in civic activity, that’s totally fine! We would still love to see you at the next Strong Towns Book Club meeting on March 21st. We’ll be discussing Chapters 7-8 (and probably a little bit of Chapter 6 that we missed last time). Put it on your calendar — we’ll see you there!

See you Saturday!

The Strong Towns Book Club meets again this Saturday at Round Table Bookstore in NOTO from 10am-12pm. This time, we’ll be covering Chapters 3-6 from the Strong Towns book. We’ll start with some book-based discussion, then extrapolate to some local topics and stories. We hope to see you there!

Strong Towns Book Club starts this Saturday!

Photo Credit John Beans, Flickr via Compfight cc

We’ll see you Saturday from 10am-Noon at Round Table Bookstore, 826 N. Kansas Avenue in NOTO.

We’ll kick off the book discussion with the first two chapters of the book, “Human Habitat” and “Incremental Growth.”

All our meetings will be on Saturday mornings from 10am-12pm. Here are all four meeting dates:

  • February 22nd
  • March 7th
  • March 21st
  • April 4th