Construction on Cherry Street scheduled

Posted 3/6/19

Construction is set to begin on the Cherry Street housing project in mid-April, according to the Homeward Bound communications director Justine Gonzalez-Berg.

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Construction on Cherry Street scheduled


Construction is set to begin on the Cherry Street housing project in mid-April, according to the Homeward Bound communications director Justine Gonzalez-Berg.

Members of Homeward Bound, who have taken on the project with funding from the city of Port Townsend, met with city staff and designers from Pacific Environmental, the project contractor, Feb. 19 for a pre-construction meeting.

Originally, the plan was to break ground in early March, said Development Services Director Lance Bailey. But due to the injury of one of the contractors, the start date was pushed back.

Homeward Bound expects that it will take between four and six weeks to do the foundation work, Bailey said.

“Right now the process is to get the foundation installed and get the building on the foundation,” Bailey said.

The four-unit apartment building near Cherry Street, called the Carmel building, was barged from Victoria, B.C. in 2017. It has been sitting on blocks on a city-owned lot since then.

The building will be renovated into eight smaller apartments. Five additional units are planned for the property, Gonzalez-Berg said.

In April 2018, Homeward Bound filed permits to begin construction, and the city approved a bond of $834,000 to Homeward Bound for the project.

But the project hit a delay with the reorganization of Homeward Bound’s board, and with the sudden departure of the project’s original contractor.

“The really interesting thing I learned recently about the Cherry Street project is that it was taken on by a group of four people ... it was not the Homeward Bound board itself that was going to do the project,” said Justine Gonzalez-Berg, the communications chair for Homeward Bound. “Over the process of 2017 and 2018, for various reasons, all of those people fell out. The contractor literally disappeared. So the project ended up getting transferred to a newly elected board who came in, in November of 2017.”

Homeward Bound restarts

Homeward Bound is a community housing trust that works to provide affordable housing for people who make 30 to 80 percent of the national median family income of $58,900.

“Homeward Bound was based in Clallam County originally and has done five projects in Clallam and then, for whatever reason, which we don’t know for sure, became sort of defunct,” said Tobi McEnerey, a board member and chair of Homeward Bound’s Cherry Street committee. “It was no longer a functioning land trust when someone got wind of this home that Victoria, Canada, was going to rip down, and brought the idea to (City Manager) David Timmons and other members of city council to barge the house over.”

Instead of creating a new community housing trust to lead the project, Homeward Bound decided to re-form to work with the city to bring the Carmel building to Port Townsend.

“That was how the notion started to resuscitate Homeward Bound, and that’s sort of where things fall apart,” McEnery said. “Being that it was defunct organization and there weren’t the players or the person power to actually manage such a large capital project with very little funding at the beginning.”

In the fall of 2017, after the building had been barged across the Strait of Juan de Fuca to Port Townsend, Homeward Bound elected a new board and began to work full-time on the Cherry Street project.

Construction was set to begin last April, but  the contractor who had been working on it left abruptly.

“We didn’t hear from him,” Gonzalez-Berg said. “He literally disappeared.”

The board began to look for a new contractor. The process was lengthy due to the uniqueness of the property. Workers will have to lower the foundation above which the building is perched on cribbing.

In November 2018, several new members were elected to the Homeward Bound board, including Gonzalez-Berg and McEnery.

“The new board members, who are all people who are really committed to the cause and working so hard, are all working people with busy schedules who are dedicating as much time as they could to moving the organization and the project forward,” Gonzalez-Berg said.

Homeward Bound is a volunteer-based organization, but it is working on hiring an executive director.

“We’ve got some new board members, it’s a smaller board, we work really well together, and we’re working on hiring an executive director, a staff person,” Gonzalez-Berg said. “Really, to build a sustainable organization, we need to have structure and people who are doing that day-to-day stuff.”

Focus on foundation

While Homeward Bound is reorganizing, its sole focus is the Cherry Street apartment project, Gonzalez-Berg said.

“The primary goal is to get the building on its foundation, then, when it’s in place, to regroup and go to the next phase,” Timmons said. “What I learned from talking to a lot of contractors when they look at the building sitting up there, they get freaked out because it’s unique.”

Designer Kevin Coker said although there were some misconceptions about the stability of the building, those worries have since been quelled.

“People were concerned that it was going to fall down,” Coker said. “But we went back to an engineer, and the engineer said that particular site could support a 10-story building. It’s not going to erode away next year. It’s basically nature’s cement. When you get down through the dirt and to the soils underneath that are compacted, it’s solid.”

The new contractor, Pacific Environmental, is a local company that builds commercial properties and gas stations in the Northwest. They also do property remediation and similar projects.

“The crew, the folks from Pacific Environmental, they know what they’re doing,” Bailey said. “They really have a plan and feel comfortable with what it’s going to take to do.”

While the first phase of construction begins, Homeward Bound plans to begin the permitting process for building more units on the property. It also is planning for a fundraising campaign and looking for volunteers to work on the interior of the building.

“We are looking for volunteers to help with the refurbishing of the apartments,” Gonzalez-Berg said. “We will have to work on fire safety, a sprinkler system, and getting the building up to code.”

While the Cherry Street project comes together, Homeward Bound is looking to expand its services in Jefferson and Clallam counties.

“We’re trying to provide housing that’s reasonably affordable for the missing middle,” Gonzalez-Berg said. “There are a lot of professional people who can’t find housing, and a lot of people who have incomes, but a house is just a little bit out of reach for them.”

A community housing trust works to buy the land that houses are on so buyers have to purchase only the home, thus lowering the price.

“There are many community land trust models that exist,” Gonzalez-Berg said. “Here in Washington, we have so many models to draw from and get ideas from. … So behind the scenes at Homeward Bound, we are trying to sort those things out while taking on this major capital project.”


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