Sand Hill Farm Update

Preliminary Floor Plan

I haven’t written anything about the Sand Hill Farm project in a while. Not because it’s stagnant, but more because of being too busy with it! The basic idea of a mixed use development hasn’t changed, but the path towards that continues to be a bit bumpy… Some of this has been here before, but for new readers, I’ll reiterate.

Last year, the Stellar competition was supposed to be our “in” for IHCDA Tax Credit Housing. When we didn’t get Stellar, I had multiple meetings with IHCDA, which indicated they were eager to help, but we just didn’t meet the threshold needed for a project. In discussions with Town leaders, we decided that the need was immediate and we needed to do something. The Town will be competing for Stellar again this year, but the changes to the program mean that the funding wouldn’t come through until 2019 and that’s too late.

Preliminary Front Elevation

I have gone through the process to have the eastern portion of the project annexed. I have been through the BZA and gotten a Special Use Variance allowing multifamily housing on the property. I have worked through MCEDC to secure Region Cities funding for the project. I have formed a new LLC (Culver Sand Hill Farm LLC) and transferred the eastern portion of the site to that entity. I’ve had multiple meetings with accountants and banks on how best to structure the project. From there, it became an issue of defining what the project would be.

Preliminary End Elevation

I had discussions with the Town about doing a small townhome project, but the dollars didn’t work. It wouldn’t have been enough to justify the Regional Cities money and didn’t really fit what the goals were. We are now proceeding down the path to create a 24 unit apartment building. The sketches I have included here are the preliminaries for that. Final designs may change, but they’re what pricing is currently based on.

In order to meet the cost goals for the project, the Town has agreed to provide infrastructure. That’s allowing the rental rates to be reduced and hit some of our target audience. This will bring in water, sewer, streets, street lights, sidewalks, etc. to the project. They will also be providing a Tax Abatement for the project.

Preliminary Site Plan

The public comment periods on this were a bit harsh. Always disheartening when you find out who your friends aren’t. Most of the vitriol was directed at the Town Council, but some got personal. That was despite the all of the employers we were targeting appearing and speaking for the project. This is somewhat baffling since affordable housing has been the top request in all the surveys from back to the Comprehensive Plan. ┬áIt continues to be the top concern in the Stellar surveys. Since those meetings it has been nice that there have been a lot of people providing off the record, positive comments to me. It’s unfortunate that they were unable to speak publicly for fear the naysayers would shun them and their businesses.

Currently we’re working down two tracks in order to make this happen. The first is with the Town to find the most economical route to provide access to the current and future projects on the site. This is being handled by the Town’s engineer with input from the Town Manager, Utilities Superintendent and myself. The second is working to bring the building plan in at or under budget. That is proving to be challenging, but the budget has been set by what the banks will support and what has been approved for the Regional Cities money. Building a project with Market Rate construction costs, but renting it at below Market Rate is difficult. In typical fashion, the banks only want to lend money when you don’t need it.

The conversations with the Town and the buzz through the community has been fascinating. The need is there, but everyone has different ideas of how to address it. Several have mentioned the tiny house craze. Enough so that I will probably include that in my PUD as an option. It seems like a reasonable possibility. Mostly, I’m looking at how to most efficiently use the property. I think working on the density is probably the key. Tiny houses might be a component, but I’m still thinking multifamily and zero lot line construction may make more sense here.

More to come!

Tiny house image via Cass Community Social Services

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