The Decorah City Council is conducting a public hearing on an urban revitalization plan that could help encourage residential construction at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 2, during its regular meeting at Decorah City Hall.
The plan would provide a five-year, 100-percent property tax abatement for new residential construction and remodeling, and commercial residential properties (apartments) anywhere within city limits. The amount that can be abated would be capped at $500,000. After the hearing, there is a 30-day waiting period before the Council can take action on the plan.
Local economic groups have been looking at housing needs for more than a year and last fall decided professional assistance was needed. RDG Planning and Design of Omaha was contracted to do a Community Housing Assessment Team (CHAT) study.
RDG did extensive background work and conducted site visits in November. The firm identified the need for 300 new housing units in Winneshiek County over the next 10 years, with 210 of those in Decorah alone.

Requirements
For an existing home to be eligible for tax abatement, the homeowner must make an improvement greater than 10 percent of the value of the home. Only the increase is eligible for the abatement.
If the Council approves the plan, it would have the opportunity annually to modify the program, extend it or rescind it, according to City Manager Chad Bird.
When the upcoming hearing was discussed at the Council’s last meeting, Council member Jody Niess said the program would not take any property “off the tax roles.”
City Manager Chad Bird said it could encourage the development of vacant lots throughout the community.
“We are already providing service to those lots – streets are there, water and sewer are already there,” Bird said.
He added there are possibly homes in the community that are underutilized.
“A lot of homes in Decorah were built pre-1960 or 1970 and are prime for redevelopment,” Bird said.
Council member Chuck Lore expressed concern the program could force some residents to improve their properties.
“It’s a voluntary program,” Bird said.
“Nobody is forced to do this, they have to apply for it,” Niess said.
Bird said all property owners in the city received a notice of Tuesday’s public hearing.