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Habitat ready to build in North Charleston

Lawrence Pierce
Shawn Means, director of Habitat for Humanity of Kanawha and Putnam, said he plans to develop the new section of North Hills Subdivision from the end back to the old road, to minimize construction traffic for new residents. The first house at left was built in less than a month.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The little gray house sits alone beside the cul-de-sac at the far end of North Hills Drive. But assuming the Municipal Planning Commission gives its OK today, Habitat for Humanity of Kanawha and Putnam will soon provide it with 23 neighbors.

Habitat Director Shawn Means will ask the commissioners to approve final plat plans for "Street B" of the North Hills Subdivision in North Charleston, which means the road is finished, sewers and other utility lines installed, and lots are ready for development.

A month ago, there was no house here, Means said. Habitat volunteers built it in four weeks in what he called a blitz build. "It was finished last Friday."

Habitat got special permission from city officials to build the home even before it had final plat plan approval from the planning commission, Means said.

An owner, who earned the right to live there through the traditional Habitat ritual of sweat equity -- helping build your own home -- is set to move in soon, Means said.

Like other Habitat homes -- Habitat built 15 of them already in North Hills -- this is no McMansion. But for someone with modest means (between 30 percent and 70 percent of the median income), who probably lived in an apartment or other rental property, it's a great improvement, Means said.

"Simple, decent, modest-sized homes," he said. "We like to make them livable, easy to clean." For many people, it's the only home they'll ever own, he said.

The gray house, with just over 1,000 square feet of floor space, might sell for around $90,000, he said.

Steps lead up to a small front porch, or deck, and the front door. Inside are a living room, kitchen, three bedrooms and one bathroom.

The back door off the kitchen opens up into the woods. "It's like being at Kanawha State Forest," Means said.

Except in the winter. "When the leaves are down it's a different story." Then you can look downhill and across the Kanawha to the Dow Chemical plant on Blaine Island.

The subdivision was first developed in the 1970s by Gene Warden and the Grace-Warden Agency, Means said. Warden built 20 to 30 homes until about 2005, when he donated the remaining property to Habitat.

Because homes in the area have traditionally suffered from water runoff problems, possibly from a water tower at the top of the hill, Habitat hired an engineer early on to design a solution, Means said.

Catch basins and swales will help, and the road itself will catch and redirect water draining from the top of the hill away from homes, he said. Drainage should be better when the project is finished, he said.

Board member Adam Krason, a principal at ZMM Architects & Engineers, used his connections there to have architects design a home suited for the rugged terrain at North Hills, Means said.

"It's an interesting design. It can be used for both uphill and downhill lots," he said. "We struggle with building houses below the road."

It may take three years or more to fill the remaining lots, Means said.

"We'll continue now in our normal pattern -- eight to 10 houses a year. Many will be up there, but also on scattered sites. As soon as we get our approval, we'll be ready to build more houses."

Reach Jim Balow at balow@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5102.


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