DEBATES OVER DENSITY USUALLY OCCUR IN urban and suburban locales where land is scarce and tensions over traffic are high—not in zip codes where greenfields stretch out as far as the eye can see. So at first it seems odd that the small town of Fowlerville, Mich. (population 2,800) would put issues related to units per acre before its town council. Land has never been in short supply in this stretch of farmland between Detroit and Lansing, Mich. But affordable homes for workforce buyers (including farmers) have been hard to come by.
That chronic problem is partly what prompted the town council to pass an affordable-housing ordinance in 2005 that knocked the minimum square footage of a single-family home down from 1,800 square feet to 1,000 square feet for a one-story home, and 1,450 square feet for a two-story residence. The ordinance also paved the way for higher density, allowing lot dimensions equivalent to a “city unit” measuring 66 feet wide by 132 feet deep (approximately four units to the acre) as an alternative to the average single-family lot in the area, which runs ¾ to a full acre.
Builder/developer Dennis Korenchuk was among the first to put the new parameters into practice with the introduction of Silver Springs, a community of 204 homes, which, upon completion, will constitute one of the largest developments in the town's history. Of the 40 homes planned in phase 1, 17 have been built and 14 are now sold and occupied.
“We opened a year ago and sold 14 houses in 12 months, which in Michigan is pretty darned good,” says Korenchuk. Roughly half of buyers have tapped into HUD rural home development loans, he adds, which allow them to buy with no down payment and to consolidate their debt into a single mortgage in lieu of the standard 80/20 split.
With its traditional elevations and prices starting in the mid-$120s, Silver Springs has proved both attractive and attainable for many first-time buyers. “Another segment we didn't anticipate is people who are coming off divorces and downsizing to live on one income,” says Korenchuk.
Upon build-out, Silver Springs will span 147 acres, 90 acres of which will be preserved as open space, including 20 acres designated as community parks. But for now, the open land that has yet to be transformed is being put to good use. “This site was previously a farm, and we are still farming on the acreage we aren't using,” says Korenchuk. “Farmers in the area lease the land from us. This year we cropped 60 acres of soybean and last year we did feed corn. Next year, we'll crop 50 acres and carve out another 10 for development.”
Project: Silver Springs, Fowlerville, Mich.; Sales started: September 2006; Units planned: 40 homes in phase 1 (204 upon completion); Price: mid-$120,000s to $160,000; Unit size: 1,000 to 1,200 square feet; Builder: Komar Construction, Brighton, Mich.; Developer: Steelhead Development, Brighton; Architect: Prince Architecture, Brighton photos: courtesy steelhead development
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Learn more about markets featured in this article: Detroit, MI.