By Cory Smith
When Lexington City Council approved the Thompson’s Knoll subdivision in December 2011, city officials expected ground to be broken on the green housing project within three months. That didn’t happen, for a number of reasons.
Now, city officials say the delays are over, and some homes are already under construction. The planning and legal documents needed to sell lots have been filed with the city, and four applicants have already been approved to move into the new neighborhood.
City of Lexington Housing Counselor Jeanene Campbell attributed the delays to several causes. For one thing, workers discovered more solid rock than they anticipated on the hill near Richardson Park and Lylburn Downing Middle School. That took time to blast through.
“We call it Rockbridge County for a reason, and the land was solid rock,” Campbell said. “It took a lot of dynamite to get that land done properly.”
The rock was a particular challenge because, to qualify for grant money, the city needed to make Thompson’s Knoll a certified green neighborhood. That meant installing proper drainage as well as what are called bioretention ponds.
“That was always in the project design that the homes would need to be some type of green certification,” said Michael Zehner, the city’s director of planning and development.
“They couldn’t take shortcuts,” Campbell said. “They had to grade it properly and … that took time.”
The other major delays involved the availability of workers. The “derecho” – the destructive wind storm that blew through Lexington in summer 2012 – pulled city staff away from the Thompson’s Knoll project.
“Our building official inspector, who is also our erosion and sediment control inspector … wasn’t able to be there as often as we would’ve liked,” Zehner said. “That did affect the early start of the project.”
Hostetter Excavation, a private contractor hired to work on Thompson’s Knoll, was also working on the addition to Maury River Middle School and the new Sheetz gas station, Zehner said. He said that also caused delays.
“I know it hasn’t been as quick as some might have hoped,” Zehner said. “But the timeline as followed is not necessarily uncommon, given the size of the development … the amount of rock that needed to be removed and the amount of staff time that we can devote to the project.”
The houses on Thompson’s Knoll are “green certified,” which should make them more energy efficient and lower water and electric bills for homeowners. The homes will allow heat to better stay within the walls, and the homes should be less drafty, Campbell said.
A rain garden and rain barrel will be installed at each home. Those will allow people to reuse rain water.
“It traps the rain water so when you go out to wash your car, instead of having to turn on your hose and use more water, you can use the rain water,” she said.
Housing is open to families with low to moderate incomes, and each home will be built according to the buyers’ incomes and the options they want for their home.
Campbell said potential buyers should not let a modest income keep them from looking at buying a home on Thompson’s Knoll.
“The only reason why somebody truly would not be able to buy a house is either they have bad credit or they actually make too much money,” Campbell said. “The point of this neighborhood is to help the people who are hard-working people, but they don’t make as much money.”
Three grants are funding the development. That allows for the city to lower prices on the new homes. A buyer who makes $30,000 a year, for example, might be able to afford a $100,000 home in the neighborhood, Campbell said.
The city has gotten nine applications and has approved four. The project is accepting up to 20 applicants. Houses will be built with help from Habitat for Humanity, Lexington’s Housing Commission – Threshold — and Thompson’s Knoll Development, LLC, a private company.