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Home, Inc. has option on Rabbit Run

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The historically green space at Rabbit Run farm that is alternately high-touch vegetable garden and brambly wildbrush, home to fox, deer and, of course, lots of rabbits, may be in for a change. Last month, Home, Inc. bought an option to purchase the 7.5-acre farm on Dayton Street to accommodate what the housing group hopes will be its first mixed-income, energy-efficient development project.

Plans for the development are as yet undetermined, and Home, Inc. wants input from neighbors and local residents to help create the volume and type of housing that the community needs, Home, Inc. Executive Director Marianne MacQueen said last week. A survey is currently being distributed throughout the village (see insert in this week’s paper) to gauge those needs.

Based on cost/benefit information that Home, Inc. has gathered, the group anticipates building approximately 30 homes on the property, about half of which would be affordable homes and the other half sold at market rate. Project leaders would like to maintain as much open space as possible by clustering the homes and attaching a portion of them, which would also make the project more affordable, MacQueen said.

The homeowners Home, Inc. would most like to serve include seniors, parents whose children attend local schools, Antioch College or Yellow Springs High School graduates, people who work in town, and those who are interested in co-housing or environmental sustainability. While Home, Inc. has just finished its 14th home in the village, MacQueen has found in the organization’s first decade, that Home, Inc. could do more by building in multiples.

“In order to make an impact in Yellow Springs and to be financially viable as an organization, we have to be able to develop more units at one time,” she said.

The estimated cost of the project is $5–$6 million, MacQueen said. In order to go forward, Home, Inc. must first obtain a financial partner with experience in residential development to help finance the purchase of the property and construction of the homes. The investment would be paid back with USDA Rural Development grants, as low-income housing tax credits and from home sales. Last week MacQueen spoke to the head of a Dayton nonprofit group with a mission similar to Home, Inc.’s that could possibly serve as that partner, she said. Home, Inc. has until the end of June 2010 to exercise the purchase option.

Affordability for a diverse range of residents of various income levels has long been a need for Yellow Springs, according to Suzanne Patterson, who currently owns Rabbit Run farm. When she purchased the green oasis in the middle of the residence A district nearly 25 years ago with two other partners, their intent was to preserve a piece of open space inside the village border. But the philosophy of Smart Growth she has learned about over the past several years has led her to believe that perhaps the best use of her land inside the village is no longer to keep it green.

“Now I see it’s much more important to have [green space] on the perimeter of the village, which puts a stronger focus on the centralized business area and not siphoning off trade from that district,” Patterson said last week. “This would also provide diversified housing for different lifestyles and new homeowners.”

The sale of her property is something Patterson, who turned 70 this year, feels personally ready to do. As the sole caretaker of the property, which includes a 100-year-old farmhouse and large barn, she has worked hard year-round since 1993, and feels now is the right time to downsize. She wants to remain in Yellow Springs, however, and is considering one of the senior apartments Friends Care plans to build on the Barr property downtown.

As for Home, Inc., aside from the financing, the group must address the additional complication of the contamination from the Vernay Laboratories property, which borders Rabbit Run to the east and is uphill of the farm. Home, Inc. obtained an Ohio Community Development Finance Fund grant to fund an environmental site assessment for Rabbit Run. The conclusion of that report from Norton Engineering stated that “it seems reasonable that the subject property (Rabbit Run Farm) could be safely used for residential housing, since the contaminant levels have already been adjudged by U.S. EPA as of low risk to residents.”

A secondary environmental consultant providing oversight for a group of Vernay’s neighbors stated in a report published in September that the current Vernay abatement plan was unsatisfactory and recommended that corrective measures be intensified. The report did not specify the effect on residents living at Rabbit Run, who would be required to use Village water, as Patterson currently does. Vernay also tests seven monitoring wells twice a year on the Rabbit Run property, where the drinking water well is capped.

While Home, Inc. is waiting to hear from the public to finalize its concept, the group is proposing to make the project as energy efficient as possible, given the financial constraints of both the developer and the home buyers, MacQueen said. The group plans to develop the site in an environmentally sustainable way, with permeable surfaces, natural water collection methods and as much open space and as many trees intact as financially feasible.

Home, Inc. anticipates that the new houses will largely be two- to three-bedroom homes. The cost of development will be approximately the same for all of the homes, but the monthly mortgage payments will vary depending on the buyers’ income, MacQueen said. Monthly payments for the affordable homes would likely range between $600/month for a family making just over $20,000 annually, to $1,300/month for a family of four making $50,000. The affordable homes would be sold using the Home, Inc. model, which stipulates that Home, Inc. retains ownership of the land, and the house remains affordable upon resale. The market rate homes would likely be in the $150,000–$225,000 range, MacQueen said.

For both Home, Inc. board member Al Schlueter, who owned and farmed Rabbit Run before Patterson, and Patsy Perry, who grew up next door to Rabbit Run when it was a working farm, the thought of losing the farm to a bunch of houses is a little sad. Schlueter planted the apple and pear trees in the orchard in the 1970s, and Perry knows a family of deer that lives there and she would “love to see it be a nature preserve.”

But as they stuffed envelopes for Home, Inc.’s latest mailing last week, Schlueter and Perry said they also see the benefit of building mixed housing there. And Perry remembers that the community already made the effort to preserve green space on Whitehall farm a decade ago.

According to Home, Inc. program manager Emily Seibel, using green space for affordable housing allows the community to steward the land and use a community resource for the common purpose of increasing the diversity that Yellow Springers cherish.

MacQueen also feels hopeful about Rabbit Run because it has utility access, it’s close to the high school, and some of its natural beauty can be preserved.

“It’s a beautiful piece of property, and we feel we can develop it in a way that maintains its beauty and serves the needs of the community,” she said.

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