EAST HELENA — Helena Area Habitat for Humanity is taking a big step this week toward bringing a whole neighborhood of new homes to East Helena. The land is ready – almost 250 acres along Montana Highway 282, near the former smelter site – and the general plan is clear – build more than 1,000 homes – but there are still a lot of design details to work out. That’s what Habitat is focused on now.
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“It's fair to say a lot of ideas have been living in my head, and these folks are here to kind of get these ideas out of the ether and onto the paper,” said executive director Jacob Kuntz.
Habitat is hosting a design “charette” – a meeting with architects, engineers and land planners from the local area and around the country, to talk through some options for how this neighborhood could come together.
“The charrette is really an idea generator, a planning generator – thinking through land development and creating a model for what a truly innovative, beautiful neighborhood will be for East Helena,” Kuntz said.
On Tuesday, those taking part in the event worked on putting together initial models. Over the rest of the week, they’ll start refining them and looking for ways to bring different ideas into harmony.
Kuntz said there’s a lot of work to do.
“People know Habitat for Humanity about building a safe, decent, affordable home,” he said. “Now we're building a whole neighborhood. So it goes beyond just the houses. Now we're talking about streets, we're talking about parks, we're talking about pedestrian walkways, green space.”
In addition to mixed-income housing aimed at a variety of potential residents, the neighborhood is expected to include commercial space, a community center and possibly even a school site.
Kuntz stresses that, at this point, everything they’ve modeled has been a very early idea, with lots of input and changes planned before anything moves forward. By Friday, though, he says they hope to have a concept plan that they can use as they start working with the city of East Helena on issues like zoning. Moving into the spring, they plan to hold more community events to get public feedback on the neighborhood.
“We think that this neighborhood is going to be the most amazing place in all of the Helena area,” said Kuntz. “It's going to be a little gem for East Helena.”
Helena Area Habitat for Humanity has been working for several years to build their capacity in response to the growing need for affordable housing in the area. They hope to be building at least 30 homes a year by 2030, and repairing 50 more.