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Waverly recently repainted its water tower, adding its motto -- “a great place to grow” -- to the landmark visible to drivers along Interstate 80.

That same message certainly applies to the area itself, with a project completed in 2018 set to give Waverly the space it needs to grow long into the future.

Nearby fields are set to become prime growth territory for the booming bedroom community, which grew to 3,838 people according to census estimates last year. With work now finished on a new sewer system that can serve 1,700 undeveloped acres east of Waverly, city leaders are excited to convert the slogan into reality.

“When developers want to move, they want to move,” Waverly Mayor Mike Werner said. “They won’t wait 18 months for infrastructure. You build the infrastructure; they will come. We needed to make that investment.”

When that area is built up, Werner believes his community will double its housing stock. He estimates the east trunk sewer can support between 1,200 and 1,500 new homes -- roughly the number that presently exist in Waverly -- in addition to new industrial sites along Cornhusker Highway.

City Administrator Stephanie Fisher said the city issued 50 new home permits in 2017 and 55 in 2018. The only problem is that Waverly is running out of room for new construction within its city limits, even as demand has remained high -- hence the need to look for space to spread out, as the city has done in recent years.

Waverly is effectively boxed in by Salt Creek to the north, and the interstate runs south and west of the community. To the east, however, fields of opportunity await -- with the long-awaited sewer serving as the catalyst.

In 2008, the city’s existing water treatment facility was upgraded to accommodate future growth. The 2013 comprehensive plan forecast Waverly would see its population increase by nearly half in 20 years, with a 2016 east trunk sewer study identifying how future extensions could be added to facilitate this level of growth.

With the bids let in 2017 and the 6,250-foot, 18-inch gravity-fed sewer main completed last spring, Waverly declared the area east of town open for development.

Though the city is yet to purchase any land in the sewer’s service area, Werner and Fisher said they’ve had informal discussions with developers. A few landowners east of town have also expressed interest in selling their property for new residential subdivisions as well.

“Lots of great things are happening,” Fisher said. “Never a dull moment -- it’s always progressive stuff. It just takes time to get to completion.”

In 2017, Waverly officials celebrated the completion of a flood-control project aimed at clearing a number of existing properties in the city from the floodplain.

As the city's population has grown, retail expansion has followed. In 2017, Tractor Supply opened a retail store near its expanded distribution center in Waverly.

However, the additional growth city leaders are anticipating brings with it growing pains. Waverly isn’t immune, though its officials are prepared for and welcome the challenges ahead.

Roads present perhaps the most significant need regarding the community’s continued expansion.

The only links directly connecting Waverly to Lincoln are Cornhusker Highway and 148th Street, with the latter seeing traffic increases of 4.5 percent per year and serving as a de facto East Beltway, according to a Lancaster County engineering study.

Quality-of-life amenities and retail options also factor prominently into the city’s plans, Fisher said.

“We have developable land in our corporate limits for commercial and retail,” she said. “We’d love to see more of that. We’re always open to ideas, and we’re ready for more residential.”

Facilities such as the community center and swimming pool would likely need to be expanded to handle a rapidly growing population, and new neighborhoods would require the parks, green space and trails young families -- the bulk of Waverly’s newest residents -- desire.

But, as Werner notes, these problems are good ones to have -- and far better than those faced by many small communities across Nebraska.

“If you stay the same, you’re losing if nothing’s ever changing,” he said. “We’ve got some things going on and evolving here.”

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7434 or jschreier@journalstar.com.

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Opinion editor

John Schreier, an Omaha native and sixth-generation Nebraskan, has been the Journal Star’s opinion editor since April 2017.

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