The three or four miles north of the Sedgwick County Zoo, along North Hoover Road, has long been an oddity on the Wichita map – a region of sand pits, landfills and rural homes among the tightly-packed subdivisions of the west-side.
Some commercial buildings and a couple of subdivisions were built there in the past decade, but the pace of development in the region is speeding up.
Jay Russell, one of the city’s biggest developers, has one subdivision underway and three more planned for the area. There are several others planned, as well.
He contends it will be one of city’s hottest housing areas over the next decade, especially for upscale houses.
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The city of Wichita has triggered that development with some key infrastructure: an exit/entrance onto K-96 at Hoover Road, now under construction; a sewer line into the area, and the paving of 29th and 37th streets between Ridge and Hoover roads.
Perhaps the most dramatic city project in the area is the planned 215-acre Crystal Prairie Lake Park, a large lake and park on the north side of K-96 between Hoover and West Street. It sits on the Kingsbury site, next to the former Brooks Landfill – once dubbed “Mount Trashmore” because of its height – and is now a grassy hill overlooking the highway.
But the area won’t completely shake its older identity. It contains the Cornejo & Sons construction landfill and asphalt and concrete recycling facility near 37th and West streets, and will for more than a decade longer.
There also are trash-filled properties, scores of older homes, rutted dirt streets and the overgrown former Riverside Airport. And, of course, the former city landfill remains.
But developers and builders say they are betting that the allure of lakes, Maize schools, Wichita’s lower taxes and convenient access to the rest of the city will overcome homebuyer reluctance, if the properties are built right.
People proved they would drive by overgrown trash-strewn land to reach the lush, manicured Emerald Bay development on West Street, between 21st and 29th.
“Water will always be popular,” said Steve Robl, owner of Robl Construction, which has built homes in several of the area’s subdivisions and will build more.
The water comes from the high water table just a few feet below the surface of the soil. Construction companies peel off the topsoil and use powerful suction dredges to remove the underlying sand laid down by the Arkansas River over the millenia.
The dredges also shape the property by determining the shape of the remaining land, such as creating fingers of land. The more expensive the houses, the fewer and more expensive the lots, and so, the bigger the lake can be.
Russell said his planned patio home development, Siena Lakes, will start at $200,000 and his planned single-family home development, Pearl Beach, will run from $350,000 to $1 million.
Convenience, too, he said, is a key. Parts of the far west edge of the city is four or five miles from a highway. Without a Northwest Bypass – and who knows when that will come, he said – it’s just not as convenient to live on the far west side as on the far east side, which has K-96.
“Instead of us constantly moving out to the outskirts, past 135th and 151st streets, this growth has now opened up because of the things the city has done,” Russell said.
Russell said he expects the bulk of the area to be sold out within a decade.
Craig Sharp, of Craig Sharp Homes, said that this area’s time has come. Upscale housing tends to cluster and the upscale corridor along East 21st Street between Rock Road and Andover is about filled up. This is the next obvious area.
Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell said he has pushed for the infrastructure needed to develop the area since he was elected to the City Council in 2007.
“This is … infill with some fabulous residential development – these are not what you would call starter homes – and it can be done much easier than expanding a mile or two outside of the city,” he said. “It provides us an opportunity to use infrastructure that is in play today and allows us to stretch our dollars that much further.”
The many millions of dollars in property tax base growth will easily pay for the public investment needed, he said.
He was particularly excited by the possibility of building a walking and biking path covering the three miles between Sedgwick County Park and the new Crystal Prairie Lake Park as a key city amenity.
Subdivisions in the area that are underway or planned:
▪ Emerald Bay, West between 21st and 29th streets, is nearly complete.
▪ Pearl Beach, southeast corner of 29th and Hoover; single-family homes priced from $350,000 to $1 million. Construction starts next spring.
▪ Siena Lakes, southwest of 37th and Hoover, patio homes priced between $200,000 to $250,000. Construction starts next spring.
▪ Estancia, northeast of 37th and Ridge, developed by Schellenberg Development. Patio and single-family homes. Construction starts next summer.
▪ Edgewater, southwest of 45th and Hoover Road, about 65 houses built and 180 lots left.
▪ Castaways, northwest of 45th and Hoover, just received a permit for sand removal. Construction to start in 2019.