The Kokomo Common Council on Monday unanimously approved a needed rezoning measure for a $6 million, 58-unit apartment development slated for the city’s downtown.
The rezoning represents a major step for the complex, which is planned for 401 E. Sycamore St., at the intersection with Apperson Way, and will include three new buildings and the restoration of one historic building.
It is the latest project, first announced in mid-October, to come to a city that has seen a broad array of housing options introduced and constructed in recent years, from low-income and supportive housing to luxury apartments across from Kokomo Municipal Stadium.
The downtown market-rate housing project, headed by local investment group Four Star Partnership and being built by Fortune Companies, still needs to obtain development plan approval from the Kokomo City Plan Commission before full construction can begin, according to executive director Greg Sheline.
Until then, workers can “move some dirt” and remediate a historic home on the property, Sheline noted.
It is unknown when the project will appear before the plan commission for the development plan approval, although developers expect it to be completed by February 2020.
The rezoning, approved Monday on first and second reading, transitioned parcels at 401, 503, 507 and 511 E. Sycamore Street from low density multi-family residential and urban residential to the necessary classification of general multi-family residential.
“This is a great opportunity for investment on the cusp of downtown,” said Kokomo Mayor Greg Goodnight when the project was announced. “It repurposes an underutilized, vacant property while complementing other developments in the area.
“It helps us achieve key goals in our comprehensive plan as well.”
Four Star Partnership, which has operated in Kokomo since 2006, “felt the location was ideal for the development,” noted a media release, citing market studies that show a need for workforce housing, another term for affordable housing aimed at middle-income residents.
“In addition, the company felt the location is prime for workforce housing that is in close proximity to downtown and other attractions.”
Also speaking for the project has been local developer Scott Pitcher, who heads Fortune Companies.
Pitcher most recently spoke to Plan Commission members, who sent the project to the Common Council earlier this month with a favorable recommendation for rezoning approval.
“It’s a gateway to the downtown, and we want to bring an asset that would enhance the downtown,” he said, later describing the state of Kokomo’s housing market.
“These units are different from what’s being built already. Some of the units are considered upper-end luxury, and some are tax-subsidized for low-to-moderate income people. This complex is being built for the people that kind of get left out in the middle.”
Pitcher said his company gets calls each week from young workers who want to live downtown for $700 to $800 a month but have encountered a void for that kind of housing.
“That’s what this product is,” he said, noting the development will mostly include one-bedroom apartments, with some two-bedroom options.
“What they’re finding throughout the state, a lot of communities are struggling getting workers into their communities because they have no affordable housing. This is set to meet that goal. It will still be a good-looking product, it will be good-looking buildings. A lot of masonry, a lot of flatboard made out of concrete, so it’s not going to fall apart in short order.”
Pitcher also disputed the argument that Kokomo is being inundated with too many apartments. He has said vacancies at Fortune Companies’ properties usually last one week, which is roughly the amount of time it takes an existing tenant to move out and a new one to move in.
“We know there’s talk that there’s a lot being built right now. Well, that’s because there’s been a big need,” Pitcher told plan commission members.
“We wouldn’t be building it if we hadn’t recognized the need.”
Notably, the project will restore a historic two-story, brick house at 417 E. Sycamore St. The house was built in the early 1880s for Dr. John F. Henderson, a surgeon during the Civil War.
Following the war, he became one of Kokomo’s earliest real estate developers; his ventures include a drug store, lumberyard and hotels. In 1867, he built the four-store Clinton House Hotel in downtown Kokomo and was later the founder and editor of the Kokomo Dispatch newspaper.
Indications that the property would be redeveloped first came in April 2017, when a demolition project took place at the location, across from the Gilead House, knocking down multiple dilapidated structures.