02 Aug Growth-Friendly Approach Working in Imperial | Calexico Chr…
Year after year, the city of Imperial’s growth ranks the municipality as one of the state’s fastest growing cities. Several factors create what seems to be the perfect niche, including centralized location, space to expand, and a city council and staff enthusiastic about attracting new housing and businesses.
“Last year, by percentage we were the fourth-fastest-growing city in the state with a growth rate of 5.6%,” said Alexis Chalupnik, city public information officer.
Imperial has grown about 20 percent since the last Census from 14,733 on April 1, 2010, to 17,695 as of July 1, 2018, according to the U.S. Census Bureau website, census.gov.
Attracting new development involves a proactive, rather than reactive, approach, city officials noted.
“Our development-impact fees are low compared to other cities in Imperial and San Diego counties.” explains Lisa Tylenda, city planner, of the fees developers pay to build within a municipality.
The city also strives to provide strong customer service, Tylenda added.
“We meet with potential developers in front of a development review committee,” she explained. “We tell them at the very start what is going to be expected of the project and that allows them to see if it the project will be feasible in the city.”
The committee has been an effective tool, Chalupnik said.
“We find that getting the major players all around in one room, like fire, police, community development, and community services, looking at the development and providing feedback gives the developer a chance to go back to his engineer and make accommodations,” she said.
Vital to the approach is the philosophy of City Manager Stefan Chatwin, who has held the position since 2016.
“We want to keep our impact fees competitive. At the same time, development fees are designed to pay for the impacts that development has on a community. Growth should pay for growth,” he explained.
Impact fees go into an account to build parks and other infrastructure around the city, but keeping them low enough to attract developers while maintaining a quality standard of living requires tight-rope-style balance.
“We listen to developers’ concerns and are willing to adjust things to make them fair,” Chatwin added. “We are open to that. This is a benefit of being a smaller community that is growing and wants to get it right.”
He added, “Our best incentives to potential businesses is excellent customer care, being up front with them about expectations, making things move as seamless as possible, having all decision makers in one room at the same time. Doing those things is what ensures the process will go well.”
Although city officials would be quick to say growing pains were avoided from comprehensive planning, every growing city requires updates in infrastructure to accommodate growth.
Chatwin admitted maintaining the size of the city’s staff is his greatest challenge. Residential growth raises service expenses for the city and it difficult for smaller cities to absorb.
“I would say the growing pains we experience are in personnel. For example, the police department. We have a small department, so we have to be innovative to find other ways to provide appropriate law enforcement for the community,” he said.
Tylenda used a large map to demonstrate how residential and commercial construction are taking place in several areas of the city.
“Currently, the city has permits issued to build over 200 residential homes,” she said.
New residential and commercial projects in Imperial include an 80-unit apartment complex; March and Ash medicinal cannabis dispensary; the new Imperial Valley Food Bank headquarters; Imperial Valley Therapeutic, a new business; Loo Medical Offices, a new commercial project; and two hemp extraction facilities that have obtained a permit but not opened.
There is also a new school under construction–Cross Elementary–on Cross Road north of Aten Boulevard and is nearing completion.
Next part 2: Infrastructure renovations, public works projects and the new speed limit on Highway 86.