Bozeman residents who lived in a group of apartments and mobile homes blocks from downtown have moved to make space for a California developer’s series of three-story duplexes.

Santa Clarita-based company Williams Homes, LLC, plans to build 16 units on the less than two-acre property along North Willson Avenue between Short and Villard streets. That would replace 31 units people were told to empty following the announcement of the proposed project. That includes 15 manufactured homes and 16 apartments.

“Other than a great home, the main amenity of living in Bozeman is the shops, the restaurants,” said Williams Homes president Lance Williams. “It’s rare to find a spot within walking distance of downtown.”

Williams fell for Bozeman and its surroundings when he brought his daughter to visit Montana State University years ago. A builder, Williams said when he struggled to find a house for his daughter, he considered building one.

The North Willson property, tucked in a neighborhood three blocks from downtown, was a find. And while his daughter is now a senior set to graduate, Williams decided Bozeman was a good first step out of California for the business.

Williams Homes filed its initial site plans with the city this summer to build eight duplexes in eight phases. Each phase includes the duplex with apartment garages, landscaping and sidewalks. The plan is each unit will have three bedrooms in the main house, and a two-car garage with two more parking spots in the driveway.

Williams said the high-demand location and quality designs mean the homes will go for sale at least at market rate. He said it’s too early to know the exact price.

“We address affordability in the guest rooms over the garages, which can easily be rentable to students or friends,” he said.

Before construction begins, plans call to demolish the existing buildings and remove the trailers. For the most part, that relocates renters. For Virgil Goerke, that spot was home to his trailer for 55 years.

On Wednesday afternoon, Goerke sat in his newly rented condo. His furniture and clocks are positioned on one side of the living room, which has more square footage than his previous home.

Williams bought Goerke’s trailer for $12,000—the same amount needed to cover Goerke’s rent for a year. The condo was a spot the real estate team with local agent Sue Frye found and helped move Goerke into at Williams’ request.

Goerke misses owning the walls he lives within. Rent’s also $1,000 a month compared to the $260 he paid for the spot his now empty trailer stands on.

“I still drive by my trailer now and then; I lived there 55 years. I don’t have any idea what’s going to happen in a year when the $12,000 is out but I’m 90 — I may not be here after a year,” he said. “Things are OK. They really helped me a lot.”

As for the remaining renters, Williams said his company encouraged the seller to give residents as much notice as possible.

“By the time we were there, most had already moved out,” he said. “The main concern really was we wanted to take care of Virgil.”

The plans still have a ways to go before they get the city’s go-ahead.

Planners have said as is, the designs may need some changes. City comments state the design’s height, flat roofs and large windows don’t fit the character of the historic block it’s located within. The comments suggested the plans pull more traditional elements from the area.

“We always try to compromise, but I can tell you we like the plan as submitted and so do the neighbors and the folks who want to buy them,” Williams said. “So far it’s been a great process, and I think we’ll end up with a better product in the end.”

Katheryn Houghton can be reached at khoughton@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2628. Follow her on Twitter @K_Hought.

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