Over a decade ago, the son of a former Yellowstone Club owner bought land in northeast Bozeman, including a mobile home park where Story Mill Park now sits.
As part of a plan to build a 1,200 home neighborhood, he asked the mobile home park residents to leave. Then, after the 2008 financial crisis, he filed for bankruptcy.
The park opened in 2019, but a portion of land at the corner of Bridger Canyon Road and Story Mill Drive still sat empty until the spring of 2021, when construction crews moved in and the frames of houses eventually started going up.
Now, a handful of homes are complete behind a line of resolute evergreen trees separating the development from Bridger Canyon Road. On a recent day, construction workers were busy in the emerging neighborhood where the bright paint of the completed homes stuck out amid growing piles of snow.
The first of the 62 planned homes in the $44.5 million Bridger View development have occupants, and more are under contract or close to being so.
“It’s really gratifying for us to be in this phase of actually seeing lights on in the neighborhood,” said Randy Carpenter, the executive director of the Headwaters Community Housing Trust, which is in charge of the project.
Of the 62 homes, which include attached and detached units, half are being sold for well below market rate prices targeted to middle-income earners and the other half are being sold at market rate.
All 22 units in the first phase are expected to be done by mid-January, and crews are already well underway with the remaining two phases, which are planned to be complete by next fall.
The housing trust is seeing construction through and preparing for future management of the below-market rate homes.
They are also hoping that the neighborhood’s design, its mission to build a mixed-income neighborhood by selling half the homes below-market rate prices and construction that prioritizes sustainability will become a model for future developments.
Carpenter said it was a “sad day” when residents of the old mobile home park had to move out and when the previous development plans fell through. But he said what the land has turned into with Story Mill Park and Bridger View is better than anything he could have imagined.
“We would hope, and I would think, that more and more homes are going to be built like this in the future,” Carpenter said. “We’ve set a standard here.”
Filling a niche
The planning for Bridger View began years ago, after the foreclosed land was acquired from a bank.
Christine Walker, a consultant on the project, said they designed homes on smaller lots and added in energy efficiency features like tightly insulated buildings, all-electric hook-ups and sustainable landscaping.
There is no difference in construction between the market-rate and below-market rate homes, Walker said, meaning homes have the same floor plan and features no matter the buyer. The goal was to target middle-income earners, Walker said.
“We know that there was a gap in the community as far as that people were making too much money … to be able to qualify to get into that low-income housing tax credit product, but they aren’t making enough to get into a market rate product,” Walker said. “So we were looking to fill that niche.”
The problem with that niche, though, is that there are no federal subsidies available, Walker noted, meaning they had to get heavy philanthropic investment to make it doable. Apart from donations, the developers are also hoping the profit made from the market-rate home sales will help make up some of the difference with the below-market homes.
Walker said the market-rate one-bedroom units on the market now are priced at $550,000, and the two-bedrooms are around $660,000.
Of the below-market rate homes that are online, a three-bedroom home sold for $420,000; a two-bedroom for $350,000 and one-bedroom homes around $300,000, said Jon Catton, another consultant on the project.
According to the Gallatin Association of Realtors, the median sales prices for single family homes in Bozeman in October was $847,500, and $480,000 for condos and townhomes.
The below-market rate homes are income restricted. According to the housing trust, the maximum-income for a one-person household to qualify is $88,000. It is $101,000 for a two-person home and $126,000 for a family of four.
The trust also requires that 75% of applicants income be earned locally.
According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the median family income in Gallatin County is estimated to be $104,7000.
Catton said the people who have already moved into the neighborhood include a mechanic, a writer, an attorney, and a custom builder. People who have homes under contract include a nurse, a ski instructor, and workers in the nonprofit, hospitality and health care sectors, Catton said.
“You start to see the first dozen or so people are just this mosaic of Bozeman, of our workforce and what makes our community great,” Catton said. “They’re ongoing members of our workforce and our community who were afraid that they might have to leave.”
Mark Meissner, with ERA Landmark Real Estate, is selling the market-rate homes. He said the open houses for the homes were the busiest he’d ever seen. Three of the market-rate homes are under contract so far.
Though Meissner and others were concerned prospective market-rate buyers might bristle at paying full price for a home that their neighbors would get at a hefty discount, he said the opposite has been true.
“That’s one of the main reasons buyers are (interested),” Meissner said. “They want to be in a diverse, mixed-income type of community, so they’re fully supportive of it.”
Another positive Meissner said, is even the market-rate homes are priced lower than the median home is selling for in Bozeman.
There is one major difference in the homes. Buyers of market rate homes will own the house itself and the land beneath it, while the land beneath the below-market rate homes will be owned by the trust and protected by a 75-year-lease (which can be renewed).
Carpenter said owners who buy a below-market rate home will be able to realize 2.5% increases in the value each year.
“It’s a balance between creating some wealth building… with the stability of homeownership and also maintaining that affordability long-term to future homebuyers,” Walker said.
Walker and other project partners also touted the sustainability of the homes, from the tight insulation to the energy efficient appliances. The homes won’t use any natural gas, and the water fixtures are designed to save water.
The homes are solar-panel ready and also capable of net-zero energy use. Courtney Naumann, a stewardship manager at the housing trust, said they also planned for the future by adding in resiliency features like sump pumps in the basements and a switch to turn off external airflow in case of a nearby fire.
Walker said the homes have LEED Platinum certifications and are a LEED ND neighborhood development.
“We were looking to create a quality product that addressed affordability long-term,” Walker said.
James Childre, who is an energy auditor and owns Redpoint LLC., has been doing inspections on the homes. He said it is clear that the goal to make it as energy efficient as possible was carried through from design to the building.
Often, Childre said, he sees projects designed with good intentions that don’t get followed on through the building process.
“It’s encouraging for me because … I see homes all day every day in different capacities of the job that I do and I’m constantly trying to tell people that it’s possible and they say ‘No, it’s not,” Childre said. “Now I have something to show and say this is possible in our climate, and lets do a better job of building homes in our community.”
The project team is hoping other developers will follow Bridger View’s lead.
They’ve already had developers from Whitefish, Big Sky, Truckee, California, and Leavenworth, Washington, show interest in copying some of their features, Walker said.
To the developers, it’s about more than sustainability.
Naumann said the development was also designed to encourage interactions between neighbors with shared greenspaces, garages and even dumpsters.
The streets were also designed to be “human-centered,” Naumann said, with streets that are at the same level as sidewalks and hidden parking in garages, driveways and carports.
In order to meet their design goals, the developers had to ask Bozeman for a slew of relaxation from city development codes.
Bozeman Deputy Mayor Terry Cunnigham said the city learned that their code “wasn’t friendly” to a development like Bridger View, which meets a lot of the city’s state goals around dense infill projects.
Cunningham called the development a “trifecta” of compact neighborhood design, combined with sustainability and affordability.
“It really ticks a lot of the boxes that the commission has been asking the development community for and we also have learned through this process that we are going to need to change our codes in order to accommodate true compact neighborhood design,” Cunningham said. “We think elements of it are extremely replicable.”