Hillsboro Council hears from public on the container homes being built

The Hillsboro City Council had a full house—both in person and with online viewers—for their meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 18. The hot topic that brought the public in was shipping container homes being used for housing in Hillsboro.

The city originally heard in December about Ordinance 1340, which allows for the property at 302-316 West 3rd Street to be used for an Airbnb. The property is the mobile home park. The applicant’s agent, Felix Ramirez, requested the ability to use existing homes in the park as short-term rentals in the event that he is unable to secure longer-term renters. The conditional use would extend to the entire park, however, Ramirez only intends initially to short-term rent the new single-container homes that are under construction.

The Planning Commission heard the case on Dec. 16 and had two neighbors speak on the matter in the public hearing. The issues brought up were not as much about the short-term rental use as they were about the look of the container homes. Those homes are still under construction. Spots in the trailer park are available now for RV rental, which has a similar transitory use as Airbnb. The council did approve the conditional use 3-1 in their December meeting.

Due to an apparent lack of information, residents began to be upset. Much of the confusion seemed to be over which shipping container home would just be in the trailer park and which ones would be in other locations in the city. Mayor Lou Thurston wrote a letter to the community in order to provide more information, and the city set the Jan. 18 meeting for any concerns and questions to be heard.

The public had to sign up to speak with their name and address in order to verify that they were a resident of Hillsboro. Thurston gave the reminder to all to be polite and tactful, which was followed.

The main concern appeared to be how the containers look and that the look would bring down the property value in Hillsboro. Several complaining on social media and some attending stated that they are the first thing you see when coming into town on Ash, which is not accurate. The only containers existing currently are the ones in the trailer park, which is not located on Ash. In order to really view the container homes, one would have to turn off of Ash and go down 3rd Street or N. Birch.

Rod Koonz, the owner of Rod’s Tire who lives on Adams St., said, “I would say that initially, as we look at the perceived development along 3rd Street at this point, it doesn’t paint too rosy a picture. That’s the brutally honest truth. We’ve got property that doesn’t look good. We’ve got infrastructure there that’s very little developed and, to me, in my estimation and my opinion doesn’t look like an area where we can support any type of housing. I think that we have to be careful as a community in anything that we look at that we have to not jump at things in desperate measure. We have to realize who we are. I would implore our leadership to not just look at things today but what does this look like down the road and what are we gonna do with it if it doesn’t work. What can we, as a community, support to keep things viable?”

Another resident, Mark Pankratz, also mentioned he is concerned that there are no zoning regulations with container homes and feels that it would be best if Ramirez just does the container homes in the trailer park first. Pankratz also mentioned aesthetic appeal and said he just didn’t think there were a lot of people who would want to live in or next to a container home.

Robert Herzet, who lives on N. Jefferson, was concerned about the aesthetics of the shipping containers as well as information he read about how used shipping containers can be harmful due to chemicals on the containers. He said it would be best to only use new containers. Herzet also expressed concern about proper insulation occurring in the homes.

More residents expressed their concern as well, with the majority stating that they felt the shipping containers should only be located in the trailer park.

Not everyone was against it.

Marion County Commissioner and former Hillsboro City Council member Jonah Gehring said, “I just think that we shouldn’t stifle any progress and should always invite progress. I know for me it also helped to hear new information today that I don’t think a lot of us had heard before now—the square footage of a single residential family home is 600 square feet. I hope that we can understand how important planning and zoning is.”

Ramirez was available to provide some information and answer questions.

“There is a big misconception that we are going to build these single-wide trailers in the community of Hillsboro, and that’s not even close to true. We’ve been working with the containers for a while, and there are data plates with all of the information on what was transported in them and how many voyages they have taken and everything,” Ramirez said.

He explained that his company works with engineers who know the structural support of the containers.

He said, “They’re built to have 500,000 pounds stacked on top of each other. We know that the main pinpoints of these containers are the four strong posts on the end. We know how to cut into these containers. This isn’t our first rodeo.”

He also explained that they are trying to build affordable housing.

“I mean, it’s modern. It’s change. It’s different. These things have the highest-end products in them. They have energy-efficient appliances. We run the heat all day long, and they stay warm. Our electric bill is $27. I’m pretty sure people would love to save on their electric bill,” said Ramirez.

He stated that the reason people choose container homes is that they are rough, rugged and built to last. Ramirez said, “The finished product is more refined. You will never have to replace the roof. There is no need for siding. There won’t be termites, because it’s metal.”

Council Member Brent Driggers asked about financing and if it is readily available for people.

“I think part of it is helping the financiers see them as homes and not just shipping container homes. Those banks who are on the forefront are already approving financing and see that these are happening all around us in this country. Can we evolve to have it here? I think it’s a great way to have affordable housing,” said Ramirez.

He also pointed out that, with the shipping container homes, homeowners insurance is $400 a year.

“They know it’s smart housing. I mean, what kind of claims are you going to file? With these container houses, they don’t take the beating like traditional, stick-built homes,” said Ramirez.

He also addressed the concern that the houses don’t look nice.

Ramirez said, “Aesthetically, the finished product like what we have at the trailer park isn’t what these are going to look like. I wish everyone could see how nice these are. Everyone who comes to the trailer park and sees inside is amazed at how nice it is. But those who just drive by, sure they only see a box. Go on YouTube and look at the different aesthetics they are doing out there.”

Ramirez also explained that the shipping containers in the trailer park are specifically planned to be used for Airbnb locations. They are single-wide, and the ones that would be used for housing in other locations in Hillsboro (including the possible property on East 3rd Street between Main and Adams) would be double-wide.

David Zeller, who lives on South Birch, brought up how Hillsboro focuses on recycling and works hard on it. He pointed out that not only does using shipping containers recycle, but it also provides much-needed housing.

“Some of the houses around town, aesthetically, need more work than these containers,” said Zeller.

No action was taken by the council.

In other business, the council:

•approved Planning Commission appointments: Gary Tibbetts (one-year term), Krista Heinrichs (two-

year term), Ken Koslowsky (three-year term), Jessie Nikkel (three-year term). The council also approved Bob Woelk to take over on the Rec Committee for Dana Maxfield, who stepped down.

•witnessed the swearing-in of Council Member David Loewen.

•heard Ordinance 1341, learning that the city contracted with Citycode Financial for the creation of a searchable online database for the city code. Matt Stiles explained that any ordinance that the council passes is given to Citycode for integration into the database. A link for the database is found on the city website homepage and is an excellent tool for searching for specific items in the code.

Since the database is up-to-date, it does represent all the actions that the city has taken. The ordinance also specifically exempts repealed ordinances that do not affect the code, such as zoning ordinances, taxing ordinances or public right-of-way ordinances. An archive of all actions (ordinances, resolutions, minutes, vouchers, etc) is kept and available for review by anyone.

The council approved the ordinance.

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