With new duplex development, Baldwin City is having best year of housing starts in over a decade, officials say

photo by: Elvyn Jones

Baldwin City is experiencing its best year of housing starts in well over a decade despite the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic downturn it spawned, city officials said.

“We’re having the best year since the early 2000s,” said Ed Courton, Baldwin City’s community development director. “COVID isn’t having any impact. Interest rates are so attractive, people are willing to step up.”

So far this year, Baldwin City has had 20 housing starts. Courton said 13 of those are for duplexes in the Gold Leaf senior development in the Firetree subdivision, which won final City Council approval in November 2019. Although duplexes have two housing units apiece, each duplex only counts as one housing start, which means this project will have a total of 26 housing units.

Additionally, the city has issued seven new single-family home permits this year, Courton said. That is consistent with the five previous years, when the city had six to 10 new single-family home starts per year.

During the late 1990s and early 2000s, Baldwin City experienced a spike in housing starts when construction began in the two residential subdivisions of Firetree and Signal Ridge. According to housing permit statistics Courton provided the Journal-World, there were as many as 52 single-family homes started in 2003 and 54 in 2005. Duplex development also increased during that time, with 99 duplexes built in Baldwin City from 1996 to 2007.

However, that activity ended with the start of the Great Recession in late 2008. The city went from 12 new housing starts in 2008 to two in 2009. Baldwin City was slow to recover — the community added just nine new single-family homes and one duplex from 2009 to 2014. Ten new homes were started in 2015, however, with the help of a state grant that provided lower down payments for qualifying applicants.

Baldwin City Mayor Casey Simoneau, who is also a Realtor, said he was encouraged by this year’s housing start activity. He said it shows people view Baldwin City as a good place to relocate because of its businesses, low crime rate, good schools and proximity to Lawrence, Johnson County, Kansas City and Ottawa. That appeal is showing up in the housing market as a whole, not just new homes, he said.

“We’re seeing only from 10 to maybe 15 homes listed at one time, which is unusual for Baldwin City,” he said. “When a home is listed, it’s usually sold within 30 days or 50 days at max.”

The low existing home inventory in an attractive market could prompt developers to move forward with subdivision plans, Simoneau said.

With the recent home building activity, the Signal Ridge subdivision is now completely built out, Simoneau said. However, there are more lots available in Firetree, including an additional group of more than 30 lots that hasn’t been touched yet. Courton said that streets and other infrastructure would have to be constructed and the final plat approved before home construction could start there.

Also, in the last two months, a nearly 8-acre site that Simoneau owns on East 1600 Road was annexed into the city and rezoned for single-family residential development. That won’t do much to increase the availability of local housing lots, however, because Simoneau said he planned to subdivide the property into just two residential lots.

In addition to the housing starts, Courton said it has been a good year for commercial development in Baldwin City. The project that seems to be of greatest interest to residents, the new Casey’s General Store southeast of the intersection of Sixth Street and U.S. Highway 56, should be starting within a few weeks. Casey’s has the necessary site plan approval to start work, Courton said.

“I know of nothing that would prevent them from completing construction by their announced timeline of April,” he said.


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