Traverse City Record-Eagle

March 20, 2013

'Green' Depot Neighborhood becomes a reality this year

By Anne Stanton astanton@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — A new affordable, green home project will help preserve the planet, not to mention the green stuff in homeowners’ wallets.

Habitat for Humanity Grand Traverse Region aims to build 10, net-zero energy homes in the heart of Traverse City; that is, homes designed to create enough energy to pay utility and heating bills.

“Obviously, we are targeting this definition, and may or may not reach that goal. But it is our goal,” said Project Manager Ryan McCoon

HomeStretch Nonprofit Housing Corp., a development partner, will build an additional five energy-efficient duplexes and a single home in The Depot Neighborhood at the southwest corner of Eighth Street and Woodmere Avenue.

Pending permit approvals, the two nonprofits hope to break ground for infrastructure next month and build eight of the 21 planned units by year-end.

Habitat’s goal is to become the first net-zero Habitat community in Michigan. HomeStretch holds the same goal, but must still find a way to creatively finance solar panels that will be part of the project.

“At this point, solar is still very expensive,” McCoon said.

McCoon likens the planned homes to a thermos. Sealing and insulating a home makes it much cheaper to heat and cool. He estimates the unsubsidized cost of construction at roughly $140 per foot.

“That’s phenomenal; it’s still a cool situation,” he said.

McCoon said he proved the energy-efficient concept in a test home on Bass Lake Road.

“If you look at that house, their heating and cooling bill for the year was $220,” he said. “It’s almost identical to what we’re doing.”

The Depot project was made possible, in part, because Traverse City parted with a 2.5-acre parcel for $290,000. The city wasn’t able to get is original asking price of more than $600,000, in part because of the economic downturn, said Bill Merry, HomeStretch’s executive director.

City commissioners were motivated to return the parcel to the tax rolls, and members support affordable housing, said City Manager Ben Bifoss.

“Those two things mitigated the price,” he said.

The homes are close to parks, the library, TART trail, beaches, and a grocery store. That eases transportation problems, said Judith Lindenau, who helped incubate HomeStretch 15 years ago when she was president of Traverse City Association of Realtors.

“You can live in Thompsonville or Grawn, but the transportation is just impossible if you’re working or trying to get kids in school,” she said. “It’s just a good location.”

The downside is its proximity to the “odiferous” Traverse City Water Treatment Plant, she said.

“People say, ‘it doesn’t smell anymore’,” she said. “Well, I drove past it for 30 years, and it sure does.”

Merry said he’s never smelled any odor on his many visits to the site.

“We have had several conversations with the city regarding the sewer plant,” he said. “They currently plan to apply additional ‘smell abatement’ measures this spring to include a conifer barrier.”

HomeStretch plans to sell $100,000 units to families earning between 60 to 80 percent of the area’s median income — a family of four, for example, that earns between $37,620 and $50,150. Habitat will tailor home prices to the family budget; it keeps average total monthly payments at 25 percent of their income, said Wendy Irvin, Habitat’s executive director.

Strong housing prices within the city limits begs the question if the Depot homes will remain affordable when they’re resold.

Merry said the HomeStretch board is working on resale restrictions to ensure long-term affordability. The state housing authority must approve the policy. Habitat has first dibs on homes before they go to market and keeps them within the affordable housing pool, Irvin said.

For details on McCoon’s test home design, go to www.habitatgtr.wordpress.com.

 

Carter's Kids event

Carter's Kids, a nonprofit created by Carter Oosterhouse, will hold a fundraiser to help build a Depot Neighborhood playground. The "Busta Move" event features a happy hour, zumba-thon, and a special appearance by actor-rapper Young MC and a possible appearance by Oosterhouse. The event will be held at Streeter's Entertainment Center on April 27, and kicks off at 6 p.m. Streeter's is at 1669 S. Garfield Avenue.