New development clears preliminary hurdle

The Windover at Hillsboro housing project cleared one more hurdle on its way to reality Thursday when the Hillsboro Community Planning & Development Commission unanimously approved the preliminary plat.

Barely making a quorum with five members present, the commission listened to developer Bob Voth and his team from Home Town Developers present their initial plans for the development, which could include up to 100 home sites, 15 to 20 percent of which will be duplexes.

The development seeks to create a family-friendly community of affordable homes with prices ranging from “mid-$80,000s to low $100,000s,” according to Craig White, who is the group’s market analyst.

White said their company, which is based in Lawrence, sees in Hillsboro at least three components that make the town a prime location for such a project:

— “enlightened, creative” local leadership;

— a strong commitment to education;

— a positive quality of life in general.

White also cited a growth trend in the local job market over the past five years, but noted that many of the new jobs have been filled by people who have not found homes in Hillsboro.

White said the company wants to create a housing community, not just build houses, and that a couple earning a combined $15 an hour should be able to afford to live there.

He characterized their project as having a creative site plan, a “strong commitment” to open spaces, significant sidewalks and landscaping, and the institution of written covenants and a home-owners association.

The developers said they had incorporated suggestions made by the commission at its Oct. 30 meeting to situate the entrance to the development along Third Street at Jefferson Street. The first duplexes will likely be built on the east edge of the project along Adams Street.

The homes will be factory built, but many will have basements, White said. Three basic models will be offered, and the company plans to begin by building one of each.

Don Westphal, the landscape artist, said this project is not being pursued on the naive notion that “if we build it, they will come.”

“Projects built on that idea are not successful,” he said. “We have gone to great lengths to understand the market, and we’ve gotten input from the community.”

He said the initial phase of the project will include 25 homes, and “the market will determine subsequent phases.”

Asked if local real-estate agents will be involved in selling lots and homes, Westphal responded in the affirmative.

“We want to involve as many people locally in the process as we can,” he said.

Bob Previtera, who is the city engineer, also is engineering the project for Home Town Developers. He described the drainage plan for the project, which will include a retention pond in the southeast corner of the development.

Craig Roble, who was the acting chair of the commission, asked about the safety issues involved with a pond in a family-oriented development.

Westphal said their team was well aware that ponds can be “an attractive nuisance” for children, and said they will address those issues not only to protect residents, but also to reduce the company’s liability.

A good portion of this meeting was offered as a public hearing on the project. Only two people offered comments.

Joel Klaassen, publisher of the Free Press, said Hillsboro’s chief challenge is “a shortage of people.” He said having more affordable housing in town should attract more residents and increase enrollment for local schools.

Klaassen also noted that when one new house is built “10 more people go to work” because of subsequent purchases to furnish and enhance the house.

“Economically, this is a no-brainer,” he said.

Mayor Delores Dalke, speaking from the audience, agreed with Klaassen’s assessment. She said national studies indicate that a new-home owner typically spends 40 percent of the home’s purchase price on additional goods and services during the following year.

Satisfied by what they heard, the commission closed the public hearing and voted 5-0 to change the zoning for the property from agriculture to medium residential, then approved the preliminary plat by the same margin.

The zoning change will come as a recommendation to the Hillsboro City Council at its Jan. 6 meeting. Home Town Developers will come back to the Planning & Development Commission, probably in late February, with a final plat on the first phase of the project.

If the commission approves the final plat, it will recommend to the council that the project be approved so that construction can begin.

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