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Infill development accelerating as builders get creative

Builders have revitalized Toms Hill with new homes. Builders have revitalized Toms Hill with new homes.

Jeff Harvey found a piece of property big enough to shoehorn in five 1,200-square-foot, two-bedroom, two-bath homes.

Mike Williams and his father, Ernest Williams, have been building rental homes in Hendersonville for close to 30 years. Recently, Mike Williams built a duplex and a handsome new home on vacant lots on Haywood Road and demolished an older home on Kensington Road in Druid Hills that he’s replacing with a duplex.
Steve Wilkie is among the new pioneers transforming historic Toms Hill into a cluster of nifty one- and two-story homes.
The Housing Assistance Corp. is building four two-story homes on West Allen Drive.
The builders are driving a trend of development in Hendersonville. They hunt for and buy buildable lots — usually in the middle of established neighborhoods — then put up new homes, often with desirable amenities like gas furnaces and garages. And then they sell them at more affordable prices than the area usually offers.
Infill development, which planners define as building on vacant or under-used lots within existing and established neighborhoods, is catching on. Henderson County developers say it’s because of the price of the homes and the proximity to the center of the city. Buyers range from young couples to single professionals to second-home seekers. In some cases, developers construct the new homes as rentals and, in at least one case, as an Airbnb.
Steve Dozier with Beverly-Hanks Realty said there are plenty of buyers interested in housing at the price point these developers are offering – starting at around $200,000.
“There’s a huge demand for it because in that price range, that is workforce housing and there is a huge demand,” he said. “It’s not being met, that’s the problem. Our nurses, deputies, restaurant workers can’t afford to live here. (Such housing) is being snapped up as soon as they start.”

A fence and a cow on Toms Hill

A native of Hendersonville, Steve Wilkie is the son of not one but two state senators. His father, Carroll, was elected to the Legislature in 1968, then lost his re-election bid in 1970. Two years later, Wilkie’s mother, Betty, beat the Democrat who had vanquished her husband.
Wilkie has a fondness for local history, including the provenance of the neighborhood perched above Busy Bend overlooking downtown Hendersonville.
“Toms Hill was established in the early 1900s,” he said. “You can see pictures of where they used to have real nice homes up here and each home had a fence and its own cow.”
Wilkie recognizes that his hometown has a critical shortage of housing at affordable prices. Along with a handful of other builders, he’s on the lookout for buildable lots. He bought five lots from an investor who had acquired the land in a tax foreclosure sale.
He’s familiar with similar infill development in “Waynesville, Brevard, places like that, where the taxes are still minimal, they’re still quaint,” he said. Once the houses go up, they sell quickly.
“They really draw the crowd. We started at $210 (thousand) on just the basic 1,100-square-feet (unit), no garage. It has all the finer things inside, a little upscale, not anything that you would see in a very inexpensive home. We do gas furnaces. We do some things energy efficient-wise, extra insulation. And then they go all the way up to $339 (thousand).”
On Summit Circle atop Toms Hill, he’s building two-story homes with finished basements that cost up to $339,000. Even those move fast. “People just love ‘em for the price that we offer,” he said.
Another feature that infill developers look for is vacant land that can accommodate two or more homes.
“We found one lot (on Orleans Avenue) and we were able to subdivide into two,” Wilkie said. “So that really brought the price down for the houses. They were at $239,000.” The two homes he built were 1,300 square feet with one-car garages “and a lot of nice upgrades.”
He first hatched the idea of building close-in when he found a vacant parcel on Highland Avenue off North Main Street. The city Department of Development Assistance has encouraged developers to fill in vacant spaces with quality homes.
“I checked into it and they said, ‘Yeah, you can divide that into two lots.’ That was our first little building in the city. We’ve been in Toms Hill now for a year and a half.”
The five homes he has finished or is building on Toms Hill are the most popular dwellings yet. They’ve attracted buyers from various backgrounds.
“The very first one we sold was an individual that bought to rent, and he rents it full-time to a young couple,” he said. “The second one was a lady that bought it for a summer home and lives in Florida. The next house was a lady that lives here. The daughter moved from Boston.” Another buyer was “a guy that’s over all the production for BMW (who) bought it for a summer place.” A physician’s assistant relocating from Florida also bought one.
“People want to be close to the city and also want to cut down in size,” he added. “If I could find lots for 25 or 20 (thousand), I could drop it (the price) back down. The big need (in housing) right now is anywhere from 275 (thousand) on down. Henderson County has a deficit, not a surplus, in that price range.”

Five homes on Edgewood

Earlier this month, the Hendersonville City Council approved Jeff Harvey’s request to rezone his Edgewood Avenue property to high density zoning. He plans to put up five 1,200-square-foot modular homes on lots ranging from just over a tenth of an acre to a quarter-acre. The prices will be $200,000 to $250,000, he said.
“I found this property that I could make it cost competitive and keep it more affordable for this area,” he said. “It was just a good piece of property to be able do that. The cost of land makes it extremely expensive for people to afford (homes). I found a couple other lots that I’m actually going to do something similar on.”
The biggest challenge is “just finding the property. I’ve got one other lot I’m working to close on. I’m looking at one on the Buncombe-Henderson County line as well.”

Nearing teardown time?

Contractor Mike Williams and his father have turned their attention recently to urban infill projects.
“Whenever we find something we think we can make work at the right prices, that’s what we’re looking for,” Mike Williams said. “Inside the city now, anywhere near the city, a lot of the lots are just gone now. That’s the reason we tore down the old house at Kensington and came back with the duplex.”
Williams suspects that developers may be nearing the point of demolishing dated homes and replacing them with new ones, as he’s done on Kensington.
“I think we are because you see it happen in Asheville,” he said. “I think Hendersonville may be approaching that with some of the older homes. Everything we’ve built the last two years, we try to stay under $1,000 (a month in rent for a) two-bedroom, two-bath. That’s kind of been our niche that’s worked for us for the last two years. Right now we’re capping out at around $1,000. That price point’s been working for us."

Associate editor Nancy Waclawek contributed to this report.