Graphic courtesy of Methow Housing Trust
Affordable homes to be built by Methow Housing Trust in Twisp are illustrated in an artist’s rendering.

Construction starts soon on affordable housing, commercial buildings

By Ann McCreary

Two large property developments in Twisp — a residential planned development of 13 affordable homes and an eight-lot commercial subdivision — got the green light from the Twisp Town Council last week.

The two developments received preliminary approval from the council, which means the projects can move forward. The homes will be built by the Methow Housing Trust on Canyon Street, and the commercial project on Highway 20 at the south end of town is being developed by owners Hank and Judy Konrad. Developers of both projects said they expect to break ground within the next month or two.

The projects are noteworthy for Twisp, which doesn’t often see such sizeable residential and commercial developments. The developments represent “a great beginning” toward meeting needs that are important to “a healthy and vital community,” said Mayor Soo Ing-Moody.

“Two things we’ve been working on for several years is affordable housing to meet the needs of the local community. And at the same time addressing the need, recognized years ago, to support the local economy,” Ing-Moody said.

“That means small businesses need to have an opportunity to flourish here, and we’ve been working at all levels to create an environment that supports that,” Ing-Moody said. “Part and parcel of that is the housing issue, and the need to house local employees. With these two projects, we are working on both fronts simultaneously.”

The commercial development is one of the most significant that the town’s longtime planner, Kurt Danison, can remember. “Since I’ve worked for the town, this is the largest in terms of a commercial long plat [subdivision] where the owners are intending to build something right away,” said Danison, who has been Twisp’s planner since 1988.

Located at the site of the former Blue Spruce Motel, the development will be geared to light industry and retail businesses such as auto parts suppliers. It could open the door to new businesses opportunities in Twisp, Danison said.

“Several businesses that have located at TwispWorks located there because there wasn’t any other place to go, or property that was affordable,” Danison said.

Similarly, opportunities for homeowners in Twisp will expand with the Canyon Street Neighborhood housing development, which will create homes priced to be affordable to people who earn the local median income or less. It is the first project undertaken by the Methow Housing Trust, a nonprofit organization established last year with the mission of developing affordable housing for residents of the Methow Valley.

“This represents pretty much the first time something like this has been done in Okanogan County,” Danison said. “It’s really unique. It will be a really interesting model that may be able to be repeated elsewhere.”

Canyon Street Neighborhood

Methow Housing Trust is planning a ceremonial groundbreaking on May 29, with site preparation to follow in June, said Steve Oulman, project manager. Plans call for the first five homes to be framed in by August and finish work completed over the winter. “The first families will be in by early 2019,” he said.

“We’ll get our feet under us by doing the first five, and probably take two more construction seasons to finish the remaining eight homes” in the development, Oulman said.

The phased approach provides time for the Housing Trust to arrange financing to complete all 13 homes. “We are privately funded and are not using any state or federal housing money,” Oulman said. An anonymous donor purchased the property and private donations will fund construction of the homes, Oulman said. “We are extremely fortunate with the outpouring of the community.”

The 3.25-acre site is next to the Whispering Rivers apartment complex at the intersection of Canyon Street and Third Avenue, near the Methow River. The homes will be two or three bedrooms, with small fenced yards, outdoor storage and covered parking. About 40 percent of the site will be a common landscaped area.

The purchase price will be set to ensure that homebuyers will spend no more than one-third of their income on housing, including mortgage, property taxes and insurance. Homebuyers will own the structure, but not the land it sits on, said Danica Ready, executive director of the housing trust.

Homeowners will have a 99-year lease on the land, and “when they purchase they understand there is a resale cap” on the price of the house, which can only increase by 1.5 percent per year, Ready said. That ensures the “permanent affordability” of homes in the development, she said.

The Housing Trust is accepting applications from prospective homebuyers until July 1, and the housing trust is working to line up lending options for homebuyers. Many lenders are not familiar with the ground-lease model used by community land trusts, she said.

To qualify to purchase a Housing Trust home, applicants must be residents who have lived or worked in the Methow Valley for at least 12 months or have a written commitment from a Methow Valley employer. In order to qualify for a mortgage, they must demonstrate that they can earn a living in the Methow Valley.

The houses will be sold to buyers with gross household incomes that are 60 to 100 percent of area median Income. For a household of two, area median income in 2018 is $52,000 per year, and for a household of four, it is $65,000, according to federal income figures for Okanogan County.

Konrad commercial development

Photo courtesy of Scott Edson
The Konrad development on Highway 20 in Twisp is expected to use a building style similar to this commercial development.

The Konrad commercial development includes eight individual lots on about 1.5 acres that fronts Highway 20 between Methow Valley Lumber and the Pacific Pride gas station. One lot will be in common open space and Scott Edson of WSA Construction in Twisp will construct buildings with uniform exterior design on the other lots.

Edson said he and owner Hank Konrad chose a building design similar to a commercial development they saw and liked in Oregon, with exteriors finished in metal and brick siding and large garage bay doors. While the outside of the buildings will be the same, the interiors “will be whatever the owner wants to do. The idea is to build to sell,” Edson said.

One long lot along the western side of the original 1.8-acre property was separated by a boundary line adjustment and has been purchased by Edson’s nephew, who has a business renting event equipment like tents, tables and chairs. Plans call for a “long continuous building with six rentals,” Edson said. His nephew’s event rental business will occupy one space and the other units will be rented.

Edson said he plans to begin construction on the first two buildings in the eight-lot subdivision in mid-June. “We always want to have one built to sell,” he said.

When Hank Konrad purchased the Blue Spruce property in 2016, he said his goal was to rid the community of a blight and replace it with a place for entrepreneurs and businesses to set up shop. The old motel was torn down, and much of the material recycled, and the property was cleaned up about a year ago.

“We want to revitalize a commercial area that could revitalize the town. You might call it ‘Hankworks,’” Edson said.