Sometime in the next few weeks, Don James will be able to start selling lots at Village at the Springs, the new housing development he's building in Golden Springs.
When he will be able to complete construction on the site, though, is hard to say.
“We don't know, exactly, when everything will be finished,” James said. “We've been dealing with lots of issues.”
Anniston city leaders have been eagerly awaiting the opening of Village at the Springs, a 126-home development that James is building on 41 acres just southeast of the intersection of Choccolocco Road and Veterans Memorial Parkway.
It is the first major housing development in recent memory inside Anniston city limits. The city's population has been in decline for 20 years, following the Army’s closure of Fort McClellan, a source of anxiety for city leaders.
James hopes to build houses in the $200,000 range, marketed to relatively affluent retirees who are scaling down from larger houses. City officials say that could bring more retailers to the city, noting that businesses often look for places with a dense population of people with money to spend.
“Rooftops are important, and they're important from the standpoint that they fuel development,” said City Councilman Jay Jenkins.
Last year, the council voted to pay up to $500,000 to extend sanitary sewer lines to the property, money that city officials expect to recoup through a sewer fee charged to new residents.
That was last year, though, before the pandemic and some unexpected weather.
“We've dealt with COVID, which slowed us down. We've dealt with the wettest winter in history,” James said.
James said the work to run sewer lines to the first 48 lots on the site has just been completed. Much of the land at the site is still forested, with a few dirt roads laid out and a large pond dug into the south side.
James said one of the key staff members on the project contracted coronavirus, slowing down the planning process. The pandemic also interrupted supply chains, he said, making it hard to get work done.
Rain, though, was the biggest problem. The development site is on a hillside, and James said it became clear that there would have to be measures built in to prevent flooding. James says flood control measures, including retention and detention ponds, were going to add $1 million to his cost to build the project.
The city and Calhoun County have kicked in some help as well. In a budget vote last month, the City Council set aside $325,000 to deal with drainage issues in Golden Springs, an expenditure that Jenkins said was inspired by the Village at the Springs project. The council earlier this year also voted to take possession of some of the land on the site so that the county — which isn't allowed to do work on private property — could use its earth-moving equipment to build a retention pond to serve the site.
In a text message to The Star, Ward 4 Councilwoman Millie Harris said the area had drainage issues long before the James development was proposed. The neighborhoods around the development are in Harris' ward, but council members often refer questions about the project to Jenkins, who is an architect.
“When Golden Springs was developed 50 or 60 years ago, the people who did it did not anticipate the volume of water coming off the hill,” Jenkins said.
James said he met with city officials this week about plat approval for the site, a step that would allow him to sell 48 lots, which would be the first phase of construction. He said he expects to get approval in a week or so.
The timeline for the beginning of construction is still uncertain, he said. He said he is committed to continuing the project, even though he is not going to turn a profit as quickly as he expected.
“We're developers. We develop land to make money,” he said. “We’re not going to make money on the first phase of this. But we will on the second phase.”