FREE PRESS REAL ESTATE FOCUS: Hillsboro targeted for affordable-housing project

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
A Lawrence-based company is working toward the development of an affordable-housing project in Hillsboro that could number up to 135 homes.

Hometown Development Co. of Lawrence is under contract to purchase 30 acres just north of Third Street and east of the former AMPI plant that is now city-owned.

Robert Voth, company founder, announced last week that work is under way to consider the development of an affordable-housing project in Hillsboro.

Hometown Development Co. specializes in the development of affordable housing through factory-built homes and is in the process of developing a subdivision in Hesston.

The local project, which will be called “Windover Community at Hillsboro,” would be similar to the one planned for Hesston, but slightly smaller.

Voth was encouraged by a Hillsboro contact to consider a similar project for this community.

Voth contacted the Hillsboro Development Corp., which had arranged to purchase the property owned by Dairy Farmers of America (successors to AMPI) that the city had not previously purchased.

Mike Kleiber, HDC president, said it didn’t take long to see that Voth’s project matched well with HDC’s intentions for that property.

“We entered into a contract with DFA on the property for the sole reason for that it’s our front door to the city, and we wanted to make sure that whoever owned that property had the best interests of the city in mind,” Kleiber said.

“What they’re proposing, and what we’ve seen, this (project) looks like it would fill a need in the community for some affordable housing-for either start-up housing or for people who can’t afford to go into other developments,” Kleiber said.

“That’s the primary market they’re trying to target.”

According to Voth, company officials have begun preliminary market research in Hillsboro and plan to complete their preliminary analysis soon.

“We really are impressed with the vitality of Hillsboro,” Voth said. “The new Main Street project and the expansion of several local businesses suggests that the development of affordable housing in Hillsboro would be well received.

“Our plan is to complete our initial work and begin working with the city of Hillsboro on a development site by the end of October.”

At that time, company representatives will meet with the Hillsboro Planning Commission for an informal working session, Voth said.

“We hope to follow the most rapid possible schedule from that time forward,” Voth said. “We hope to have a planning design by the end of October. Our hope would be to begin selling homes next spring.”

Voth is familiar with the area, having been born in nearby Goessel. He attended Bethel College in North Newton.

Voth has had previous real estate investment experience in Hillsboro, having owned the building where the Olde Towne Restaurant is located since the late 1980s.

The housing product that Hometown Development would use in Windover Community would be factory-built housing known as modular homes.

Modular home are built to the same housing code as site-built housing, Voth said.

The project being contemplated for Hillsboro would be similar to the project in process in Hesston. Housing would be two- and three-bedroom homes with a garage priced in the $80,000 to $100,000 range.

Several models of homes will be available to potential buyers. (See accompanying photos of typical models.)

The project design would include “extensive attention” to entryway, landscaping and open space. Each home would include landscaping and fencing to tie the community together with a common there.

Once construction begins, Voth said the company hopes to have several model and “spec” houses available at first and to stay slightly ahead of demand.

“From order to move-in on a new house will take about 30 days,” he said. “While undetermined, there may be a few townhomes for lease as well. All of this is, of course, contingent upon city approval.”

Hometown Development Co. will go to “extensive lengths” to communicate its plans to the community, Voth said.

“We understand that many people will confuse our plans with the development of a mobile-home park,” he said. “Our plans couldn’t be further from most people’s typical thoughts of some factory-built homes.

“We are confident that when people see the homes we are contemplating, they will be more than comfortable.”

Voth met with several city officials and members of the Hillsboro Development Corp. and Chamber of Commerce last Wednesday to introduce the project and answer questions.

Mayor Delores Dalke was unable to attend that meeting, but was introduced to the plan earlier.

“I’m extremely excited about the possibility,” said Dalke, who also owns a real estate agency in Hillsboro.

“I see a tremendous need for homes that people who work for the salaries that are offered in our community can afford. I think this concept will fit that need.

“As mayor, when I see the number of people who work in Hillsboro are having to drive in because of a lack of housing-either rental or housing they can purchase-it’s just amazing.

“Hillsboro is losing a lot by not having these people live where they’re working.”

Dalke said she didn’t think the addition of the Windover Community would not undermine existing new developments.

“I see this as being an addition to the market rather than in competition with the market because it is a price range that is not readily available in Hillsboro,” she said.

Dalke said this project is more like the one her own company pursued in recent years where they combined lots in older sections of town and built new, affordable homes on them.

As mayor, Dalke said that kind of housing is important for the city’s future.

“Why are we giving tax abatements to help companies bring jobs to Hillsboro if we then have no places for people to live so they can also shop in Hillsboro and put their kids in school here.

“I think (Windover Community) will be a great addition to our town.”

Kleiber agreed.

“We were looking at concepts, as far as how we would utilize that land,” he said of HDC. “In our mind, it was something that would happen well into the future. Part of the concept we looked at was multi-family and single family-housing.

“I think it will be a good fit for Hillsboro and help us grow.”

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