Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Are smaller home lots now in vogue?

Developers see increasing demand for low-end housing in Hailey

Express Staff Writer

This cottage on West Croy Street in Hailey will soon give way to a four-lot subdivision that will contain four two-story homes. Photo by Willy Cook

    Developers are building homes on smaller lots in Hailey to meet increasing demand for low- to mid-cost housing. But increased housing density on lots near the city center has brought complaints from some neighbors.
    As the rate of new home construction leveled off this spring, Community Development Director Micah Austin began wondering how the city would meet its housing needs.    
    “Rental prices are increasing and the housing stock is decreasing,” he said. “We’ve got to add some inventory.”
    By last year at this date, the Hailey Planning Department issued 54 building permits, many of them for remodels and other improvements. This year, after what looked like the opening of a banner summer, the city has issued, to date, only 51.
    “We had a great March and then an awful April,” said Austin, who nevertheless believes there is an increasing demand for housing.
    “Last year there were 30 homes built in Hailey. All but one of them was pre-sold.”
    Austin said most new home construction during the past two years has taken place in Woodside, Northridge and Old Cutters, where single-family homes are typically surrounded by large lawns.
    “The only problem is that lots in subdivisions like Old Cutters are not accessible to average middle-class residents, like school teachers and city staff members,” he said.
    That leaves Austin wondering where residents will live if the housing demand continues to rise. One answer is to build on smaller city lots.
    Several notable single-family developments have been built on smaller lots at existing density requirements. This is a change from the real estate boom years, when larger homes were more in vogue, and often built on several combined city lots.
    Capstone Development owner Greg Bloomfield was given design-review approval last week to build two, two-story, three-bedroom houses on West Croy Street. The homes range from 1,700 to 1,800 square feet in size and will be built on 4,800-square-foot lots. Four original townsite lots 30 feet wide and 140 feet long were reconfigured into four square lots to make the development possible.
    “I would not be building them unless I thought there is a market for them,” Bloomfield said on May 12 to the Planning and Zoning Commission.
    Although the houses conform to density allowances, the two-story structures have small lawns and rise only 10 feet from property lines, a fact that has adjacent Walnut Street neighbor James Mitchell concerned.
    “This will drastically impact my privacy,” Mitchell told the P&Z, a comment that sparked Commissioner Regina Korby to ask Bloomfield if he was interested in providing open space on the remaining two lots.
    “Why?” asked Bloomfield. “Are you interested in buying them?”
    Korby did not respond.
    Contractor Brian Bothwell is building the two homes for Bloomfield, and has consulted with another client, Judy Castle, about rezoning five lots from Business to General Residential to allow 1,000-square-foot homes on the 6,000-square-foot lots on Glenbrook Drive in Woodside.
    “Hailey is still a bedroom community for Ketchum and there is a demand for housing here,” Bothwell said.
    He said he sees a local trend toward putting bigger homes on smaller lots.
    “In this valley, you either have three homes or three jobs,” he said in an interview. “With the recreational activities here, people don’t have time to take care of big lawns.”
    Builder Brent Tanner bought three city lots on 1.78 acres on Winterhaven Drive in Woodside a year ago. He plans to build the 12-unit Sunburst townhome development on the property under a new subdivision application.
    Tanner built two homes on two small lots on River Street in Hailey last year, reconfiguring lot lines as Bloomfield did, allowing for two average-size buildings on smaller lots rather than one home with a large yard.
    “Our experience is that people prefer smaller yards,” he said. “That equates to less Saturdays doing yard work, and more Saturdays fishing.”
    Tanner said the move toward higher density and smaller lots is price-driven.
    “The more units we put on a piece of ground, the closer we can get to a price that people can afford,” he said. “From $300,000 and down, there seems to be a big demand.”
    Austin said that if the housing crunch continues and development cannot keep up with demand, a change to the zoning code in 2006 allows for accessory dwelling units in the Limited Residential zone, where the majority of residential lots are located. He said this would allow for more small, rental apartments in the city.
    The change allows accessory dwelling units of up to 900 square feet in the old Hailey townsite on lots as small as 7,000 square feet, or .16 acre.
    “There have been no complaints so far from the public about this,” Austin said.
    Austin said creating and maintaining easy pedestrian access to stores and offices, libraries and government buildings requires concentrating residences close to the center of town.
    “A walkable city requires housing density,” said Austin, who came to his job two years ago from the rural city of Jerome. “Jerome is not a walkable city at all. They made the decision to expand outward.”
Tony Evans:

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