The city of Carey is on the verge of a population boom. At least that's what developers and real estate speculators are hoping is in store for the small, rural community, located 45 miles southeast of Ketchum.
Sara Mecham, Carey's planing and zoning administrator, estimates the population of her city is somewhere between 680 and 700 people residing in approximately 300 homes. This is an increase of almost 200 people over the last five years, according to estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau.
However, Mecham's desk is inundated with applications for subdivisions and detailed drawings of planned unit developments. If all the current applications before the city were to be approved, more than 1,000 lots would be available for construction of new homes.
The interest in developing land in Carey began four years ago, the likely result of skyrocketing property values in Wood River Valley cities such as Hailey and Ketchum, Mecham said.
While city officials would like to see the average cost of a 10,000-square-foot lot in the $50,000 to $75,000 range, they now fall somewhere between $75,000 and $95,000, Mecham said.
"There's a lot of families in town whose kids can't afford to move back here," Mecham said during a recent interview. "We don't want low income housing, but we do want lots to be affordable."
She continued to say there has been pressure on public officials from the community not to require developers to build too much off-site infrastructure out of concern that this would inflate land prices.
However, Mecham contended that prices are increasing regardless of such requirements and that the city should focus on making sure it has a comprehensive plan in place that will ensure necessary amenities in the future. Mecham is working on revising the city's comprehensive plan, which was implemented in 1996, but has had little time to do so due to the flood of subdivision applications.
"There are definite growing pains," Mecham said. "The community is realizing what it wants and needs."
As an example, Mecham said that whereas the city previously charged developers a $200 in lieu fee for open space, it now requires 5 percent of the total area to be park land or an appropriate fee determined by the City Council.
While developers seem more than willing to agree to the city's requirements, with two recent subdivisions home to Carey's first sidewalks, it remains unclear as to who will use them.
"The city doesn't have any answers as to where the people are going to come from to fill these houses," Mecham said.
She said the city's primary objective is to ensure quality growth that does not negatively impact the existing citizens, meaning development pays for itself and the impact on the community, but not to worry about developers' return on investment.
As Hailey and Bellevue reach their growth limits, potential homeowners looking for the small, rural community could turn their sights to Carey to join the already significant portion of the city employed in northern Blaine County, Mecham said.
Ketchum-based developer Charlie Holt, who is close to breaking ground on his 66-unit subdivision called Lakes of Waterford, agreed with Mecham, adding that new housing could also attract workers who currently commute north from Shoshone.
"This will be a point you can't find in the northern valley," Holt said in a recent interview.
While she expects a "trickle down" effect from the upper valley, Mecham said Carey is not looking to be any kind of resort community.
Recent talk of an industrial park is adding to the speculation that the city could build it's own economic base, creating another potential source of housing demand.
Holt has no firm schedule for the build-out of his project, but said it won't happen within two years due to current market forces. However, if the city's first subdivision serves as an indication, Holt could see his product quickly taken off his hands.
Carey View Estates received final approval in 2003 and is currently at 55 percent buildout of a total of 36 lots over four phases. Mecham said the developer had a waiting list and the lots sold the day they became available.
However, the more recent Greenfield Estates provides a visible counter to optimistic developers.
The 25 lots sit vacant just west of town on state Highway 20. Stop signs are unused and partially hidden by tall grass with no motorists to obey them. Mecham said the lots have been available for sale since last October and, to her knowledge, a single one has yet to be sold.
Mecham said this could be a result of the absence of amenities, such as a park, playground, or even trees, something Holt already has in place at his subdivision. Still, she isn't sure if demand will keep pace with supply, but noted that some of the larger developers can afford to sit on land and wait for a favorable market and that this speculation will continue as residents sell their properties.
"As the old saying goes, 'Times, they are a changing,'" Mecham said. "The same is true for our little community."