Ground broken on housing project

Gray Hughes

An empty field on Top O Hill Avenue will be empty no more as ground was broken there for an attainable housing neighborhood in Hill City.

Members from across the Hill City community were on hand Dec. 4 for the official groundbreaking.

“We worked so hard to make this happen,” said Christy Hawthorne, president of the Heart of the Hills Economic Development Council (EDC), the group that spearheaded the project. “To quote Jim Scull (the developer of the neighborhood): ‘It’s a bloody miracle that it happened.’ There were so many times where we went back to the drawing board to try to make this project happen. It was such a labor of love.”

The neighborhood will consist of 22 single-family units and 12 twin homes. The single-family units are priced to be around $200,000 to $250,000 while the twin homes are priced to be around $175,000 to $225,000.

The project will sit on a parcel of land that is six-and-a-half acres. The land was purchased for $34,000 an acre.

The neighborhood will be complete with paved roads, sidewalks, water, sewer and a green space.

In order to do this, though, a $2 million tax increment financing (TIF) district needed to be approved by the Hill City Planning and Zoning Commission as well as the Hill City Common Council, which both bodies did in November.

In the TIF, roughly $1.2 million will be used for developing the area by installing roads, sidewalks, sewer and water while the remaining $800,000 will be used for interest.

In addition to support from the two major governing bodies in Hill City, the Pennington County Commission signed off on a resolution in October showing support for the project.

With the project officially given the green light, members of the EDC reminisced on the work it took to get the project done.

It took a lot of people to get to where the project is today, Hawthorne said.

“Even before we got to the nuts and bolts of figuring out the fine points of the project, getting to this point there was a lot of obstacles that we faced, and as an EDC team there was a lot of doubt,” she added. “The great thing about our team was that...there was always one person on the team who believed we could succeed, and we always let their voice be the loudest. Because of that, we are here today. Thank you.”

Hill City mayor Kathy Skorzewski said it is a great time to live in or be a community member of Hill City.

Five months ago, she said she remarked that Hill City is a great town and there were actions being taken to look forward to, but this attainable housing neighborhood will work to make the entire Hill City community better.

“These are things that are starting to show us the forward progress and what a great time it is to be a resident here,” Skorzewski added.

Bob Lowrey, a member of the EDC board, said it had taken a couple of years to make the project happen.

With the neighborhood being built, Lowrey said the EDC wanted to create a space where “friends are neighbors and neighbors are friends.”

He said the EDC felt it was important to have a community of people within the neighborhood who knew one another and watched over one another. The EDC also wanted to create a desirable place to live complete with paved streets, lighting and nice looking homes.

“We are building a large enough development to help Hill City become even more vibrant and brighter of a community than it already was,” Lowrey said. “We wanted the homes to be something the average two-income family could purchase. We feel like this is a good step towards creating the vision that we have here for Hill City.”

Scull, the developer, said he told the EDC what to do to make the project a reality, and the group did it. He had a lot of conversations with Brett McMacken, city administrator for Hill City, about what would work and what wouldn’t work.

The EDC did it — amazingly, Scull said.

There were several times where the group thought it was at a cutoff point, but Scull said it found a way to get it done.

“This isn’t a possibility in most communities because they don’t have the vibrancy or the economy or the future that this community does,” Scull said. “(Hill City) is a community of, I think, around 900 people. I was just thinking about it recently and what an impact this will have. We have 31 attainable housing lots here — and those are lots where we would put normal homes on — and then we have seven tiny home lots that we have been inspiring about. …The 38 lots, if you put two-and-a-half to three people to it, we are going to increase the population in Hill City by 10 percent.”

If Scull didn’t think it was possible, he said he would not have been a part of it. But, he said, there are people here and who will come here who will enjoy the community, and everyone in Hill City will be better for it.

This project, though, doesn’t happen without a can-do attitude, he added.

When he was first called about the project, Scull said that the first words out of his mouth were: “You paid too much for the land.”

“You can’t build affordable housing on $34,000 an acre land,” Scull said. “Often, that is not the realm of reasonableness. Then we started talking about a way to make it work.”

And make it work the EDC did, Scull said. He said he was proud to be a part of the project.

He plans to start work on the project soon, he said. He and his crew are hoping for a good winter and, even though they can’t start paving until next spring, they hope to be building houses next spring.

So, to help the project, Scull said people need to tell their neighbors and friends that Hill City will have nice, attainable homes for sale.

The entire project is a community project, he said.

Ron Rossknecht, a member of the Pennington County Commission and the EDC treasurer, said he has been on the board for roughly 20 years “and we finally hit a home run.”

“I want to thank (Scull) for answering his phone about a year ago,” Rossknecht said. “It kind of evolved from there. We are a well-oiled machine and work good as a team.”

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