HANCOCK COUNTY – A homebuilder wants to bring more than 400 new homes to the northwest part of the county.
About a quarter of the proposed neighborhood would be made up of properties that the developer wants to make affordable for first-time buyers. This prospect intrigues officials, who recognize the lack and need for such housing in the county. But it also illustrates their struggle to balance a desire for high design standards with lower selling prices.
Indianapolis-based Arbor Homes is considering 140 acres near the southeast corner of County Roads 800W and 600N for up to 467 lots.
Called Magnolia Manor, the proposed community would consist of two types of products. One would be 339 from the developer’s Arbor product, it’s a traditional single-family home with minimum living areas of 1,400 square feet for single-story and 1,800 for multi-story.
Then there would be 128 of Arbor Homes’ new Genesis product, with minimum living areas of 1,100 square feet for two stories and 1,850 for three stories. Genesis is designed in a “cluster style” layout with four to 10 individual homes arranged around a shared car lot. Each house has a private garden and an attached two-car garage. They are designed around the same footprint to increase construction efficiency and reduce development costs.
“The Genesis line of homes was created as a product for first-time buyers to fill a growing void in housing inventory,” says a letter of intent for Magnolia Manor that Arbor Homes filed with the county.
Caitlin Dopher, senior rights officer for Arbor Homes, said during an informal presentation on the Genesis line to the Hancock County Board of Commissioners in January that the company’s goal was to make homes available for less. of $200,000.
Magnolia Manor would also have a pathway system, swimming pool, pool house and playground, as proposed by Arbor Homes.
The developer is asking the county to rezone the land into a planned unit development, which would set specific development standards after approval from county leaders.
Mike Dale, executive director of the Hancock County Plan Commission, supports the proposal. While the county’s overall plan calls for housing in the area with a lower density than that proposed by Arbor Homes, Dale noted that what the developer is asking for isn’t much different from existing nearby neighborhoods. He added that the site is bordered by major collector roads intended to serve higher traffic volumes.
However, the minimum lot widths and front and side setbacks offered by Magnolia Manor are less than the county generally allows, and Dale recommends that these be increased before the plan commission makes any positive recommendation on the site. project.
The proposal renews county leaders’ dilemma of wanting strict design standards, driving up home costs as more warehouses are built in the county, creating jobs that don’t pay enough to afford such houses.
“We want to eliminate vinyl (siding), we’re concerned about super high density, we’re concerned about cheap homes,” Dale said. “On the other hand, all these industrial buildings arrive here; we need affordable housing. And prohibiting or outlawing vinyl, requiring enormous setbacks… all this adds to the price of houses. So how are we going to provide affordable housing if we continue to raise our standards? »
Vinyl siding is among the proposed design standards for Magnolia Manor.
Michael Long, a member of the planning commission, said it might take some motivation from the government to find the desired balance with residential developers.
“If we want the house to cost $200,000 but we want it to be on a 65-foot lot, we have to find a way to incentivize them to build it,” Long said. “I always sort of wince when I see ‘affordable housing,’ because it’s become an oxymoron.”
Renee Oldham, a member of the planning commission who is also a director of the Mt. Vernon Education Foundation, said she is concerned that lower-cost homes will become rental properties and that the ephemeral will increase, which can put a strain on strain on school systems.
Oldham, who also chaired the Federal Home Loan Bank of Indianapolis, added that she felt the area lacked capital infrastructure for first-time home buyers, such as down payment assistance programs.
“Once you open the door to substandard development, you’ll get all sorts of things you don’t want,” Oldham said. “So I think it’s great to start with high standards and be able to attract the right kind of investment into your community rather than taking whatever you can get just because you need to. fill a gap.”
Byron Holden, also a member of the planning commission, suggested there might be a practical reason to relax some standards when looking at the economy.
“In 2008, we had a recession; it took about 12 years to get over it,” Holden said. “I know we’ve got this big boom going on in one corner of the county, but generally we don’t go out of our way to raise a lot of standards, especially when we might be heading into another recession.”
The town of McCordsville, whose southern border runs just north of the Magnolia Manor site, opposes the proposal. A letter to the county signed by McCordsville City Council President Tom Strayer calls the product Genesis.
“While we certainly understand the need and need for entry-level homes in our shared Hancock County community, we don’t believe this is the right place,” the letter reads.
It wouldn’t blend in with existing large residential lots in the area, the letter continues, adding that the city is concerned the neighborhood could spark similar proposals nearby.
The county plan commission is expected to review Magnolia Manor at its May meeting, where members would vote on a recommendation for the proposed rezoning to county commissioners.