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Culver's Crossing puts focus on workforce housing

by CAROLINE LOBSINGER
Staff Writer | April 3, 2022 1:00 AM

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SANDPOINT — Area residents could soon have an affordable place to call home.

That's the premise behind the Culver's Crossing planned unit development.

And that's the message Rob Hart, Bonner Community Housing Agency executive director, wants the Sandpoint Planning & Zoning Commission to hear when he presents the project to them on Tuesday.

He's hoping the public will attend the hearing, both in person and online, and send a strong message of support for the concept.

While other developments allow for speculation and investors to come in, Hart said Culver's Crossing is aimed at creating affordable, quality housing for local employees.

Hart the area is the focus of a number of developments, but the Culver's Crossing project is doing something different — and putting the focus on affordable housing.

"If you look at priorities, what's more important right now? I know traffic is a problem. We can't deny that and it's getting worse," Hart said. "But housing is even a worse problem. So I think that if we can address that … then that will really help the bigger problem right now."

As a PUD, Culver's Crossing features a variety of density, different types of units, and open space, allowing for more flexibility.

"We're not doing a cookie cutter subdivision," Hart said. "We're doing a variety of things. And so we're trying to get the word out so that people will come to this public hearing and show support for affordable housing in Sandpoint, because we need it.

"We're not trying to change the world. We're just one little place and do something that we can do to help local employees."

He hope residents and businesses send in emails and letters of support for the concept. He also is inviting those in support of affordable, quality workforce housing to attend the hearing. He plans a quick show of hands at the start of the meeting, asking those present to indicate whether they feel workforce housing is needed.

"It's not so much that they support this project, but that they support the idea of 'let's build some quality homes that locals can afford,'" Hart said.

If approved, the infrastructure would go in first followed by the first phase with 13 townhomes. Subsequent phases would build additional townhomes, apartments, twin homes as well as single-family homes.

As an indication of the need, Hart said BCHA has garnered a waiting list of 88 people — and counting — for the project's first phase alone.

In total, Culver’s Crossing will offer 49 units of housing compared to 30 in a standard subdivision. Rather than building the homes and then selling them at market value, Hart said the home cost will be based on income and eligibility.

The single-family homes, townhomes, and the three-unit apartment building, would be designed to look like historic homes originally found in north Sandpoint, with dormers and interesting architecture. Existing trees on the site are being kept, both to add to the neighborhood feel as will a small community park that will be created.

Homes facing Culver Drive would be alley loaded, with garages in the back and a greenbelt of space along the road. Non-linear streets will keep traffic speed down and help create more of a neighborhood feel as well, Hart said.

A forester survey the trees on the site, noting the different species and locations. A fence will be built around them during construction to protect them so they can be kept, again keeping to the neighborhood feel and adding to the green space, Hart said.

While the project originally called for deed restrictions, limiting when and how homes could be sold, Hart said that has changed. Instead, the purchase contract will include a right of first refusal where BCHA will be able to purchase the home at its original cost plus consumer price index for the first two years. If the home is sold between two to four years, the homeowner would get the original purchase price plus double the CPI.

"On the first day of year five, you can do whatever you want," Hart said. "But it will have a period of affordability of four years."

The purchase contract also requires the home to be the buyer's primary residence. While a room can be rented out as an Airbnb space, the entire home cannot.

"By creating these qualifications for buyers, we hopefully are targeting those people that the companies need to have come into town," Hart said.

With the cost of housing, Hart said there are a number of situations where those with a good job either can't find housing, or the house they had been renting was sold and suddenly they don't have a place to live.

An online survey by the city of Sandpoint, which garnered 36 responses, showed that, when asked what the maximum purchase price owners would be able or willing to pay for a primary residence, the average response was just under $300,000. According to realtor.com, the median home listing in Sandpoint was $904,000 as of February 2022.

Creating quality, affordable housing takes a holistic approach, Hart said. From the land owner willing to take a different approach, to the land, to engineering to design and everything in-between.

"It's not one thing. It's everything," Hart said. "To build affordable, you have to look at everything, the land purchase, the site plan, the construction specifications, the financing, the approvals. And that's why the hearing is so important."

Time, Hart said, is money. Delays could push the project back an entire construction season, adding to the expense. So far, Hart said city officials have been great to work with, allowing him to turn his focus to the public hearing and to spread the word about what PUDs are and why it is a great option for Sandpoint.

"All I can predict is it won't go any way that we can anticipate," Hart said of the hearing. "It just will not. It will be something that we don't anticipate will happen so we're trying to get letters of support, we're trying to get people to show up to say, this is something we need and whether or not you like this project, it's the whole idea. We need to start doing some housing that's affordable."

As in other resort communities, there is a deep need for quality, affordable homes that local residents who live and work in the area can purchase, Hart said. Having been a part of similar projects elsewhere, he knew what it took to create the kind of housing that is in short supply in the community. After working for his father at a large international design architectural firm, including Disney World, Hart decided to do something different and began working with churches and schools through his own firm.

Along the way, he was able to prove it's possible to build quality homes that the middle income and workforce can afford. To be creative, working with a mix of densities that allow property owners to still make money but create homes for a community's workforce, Hart said.

"I know how to build this kind of housing, and have the landowner make money. "What a lot of people think is that you can't make money doing this. But that's not true. You can," he added. "You're not gonna make as much maybe as somebody who's building million dollar homes, but you're helping the community and you're making money."

Without workforce housing, without homes for the middle class, the fabric of a community frays, Hart said.

"It's like threads, right," he added, "and if you start pulling out one of those threads, you know how a sweater will slowly fall apart. So the fabric has to has to be held together. And so that's where I think where we are, with Nancy is helping that fabric. This is part of weaving that fabric together and creating a place where people can can afford to live."

In the end, the Culver's Crossing project is the culmination of "a bunch of things [that] came together," Hart said, noting that any property owner can do similar projects.

"It's something that I believe in," he added. "You know, we don't do any luxury housing here. It's all housing that locals can afford."

He praised the landowner, Nancy Hadley, said her determination to make a difference in her community.

"She's doing this out of her care for the community," Hart said. "And that takes a lot of risk, it takes a lot of energy, and you know, she just hopes that there's some repayment at the end, spiritual, and social repayment, not the financial repayment. And that's a special kind of person. There's not a lot of those people out there. So what I often say at the end of these things is thank God for Nancy Hadley."

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(Photo courtesy ROB HART)

A model home built by Rob Hart in Sandpoint in 2018. Hart said this home will be similar to those built in Culver’s Crossing.

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The home above was designed in an affordable housing subdivision by Hart in another state while he worked in the private sector. Now, he's hoping to apply some of the same ideas to Sandpoint.

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