Meeting Housing Needs in Sturgeon Bay

Scott and Stephanie Whitley discovered that the Sunset Hill #2 subdivision was the right place for their family when they made the long-awaited move back to Sturgeon Bay. Photo by Katie Sikora.

For Scott and Stephanie Whitley, moving to Sturgeon Bay has been quite the journey. The couple married here, in the backyard of Stephanie’s parents’ house, but over the past four years they’ve lived in Minneapolis, Chicago, Des Moines, and Appleton, all the while hoping that they could eventually call Sturgeon Bay home.

When Scott’s job as a safety consultant for Liberty Mutual settled down to the point where the couple could pick where they, their son Wes, their dog Woody, and their soon-to-be-born daughter Nora could live, Scott and Stephanie immediately started looking for places in Sturgeon Bay.

Their initial search, however, wasn’t very fruitful.

“Originally, we were looking to just rent up here until we were established for awhile,” says Scott, “but we just couldn’t find anything. My office is in our house, so we needed a fairly large rental house. There just wasn’t anything that was available that was decent to bring a new baby into.”

With rentals ruled out, the couple decided that it was time to buy. They looked at a bunch of houses in the city, most of which sat right at the upper end of their $180,000 price range, but eventually found a home that worked for them in the city’s new Sunset Hills #2 subdivision.

Sunset Hills #2 is a 17-lot subdivision, located kitty corner from Amity Field on the former site of WireTech Fabricators. When WireTech was looking to expand, the city used a combination of grant money and funds raised from the Tax Increment District created in 2008 to buy the company’s old site.

The city then sold WireTech a new lot in the Sturgeon Bay Industrial Park and prepared to turn the old site, which is surrounded on all sides by other residential areas, into affordable, single-family housing. Development of the site began in July of 2010.

City Administrator Steve McNeil says that the intent of creating the subdivision was not to turn a buck, but to make an investment in the type of housing the city needs.

“We’re not in the development business,” he says. “We didn’t do this to acquire land, build it, and make a huge profit. The intention was to have the development meet the needs of the city in that area, and I think it does.”

With two homes sold, three more of the 17-lots in the Sunset Hills #2 subdivision are under construction. Photo by Katie Sikora.

The 1,200 to 1,300 sq. ft. houses at Sunset Hills #2 include three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a full basement, and a two-car garage, and they run about $140,000.

Two houses, including Scott and Stephanie’s, have been completed and sold on the site. Three more are currently under construction. One of those has already been sold, and there is talk of another home being started this year.

And while the houses are already being built and priced with affordability in mind, the city is offering an additional incentive for the first buyers who move into the subdivision.

“For the first nine homes,” says McNeil, “we will give an approved buyer a $5,000 down payment assistance loan that, after five years, is forgiven if you stay on the property.”

Those loans are funded by the city and administered by the Door County Economic Development Corporation. Scott and Stephanie took the $5,000 loan, and they say that it helped them cover some necessary purchases that they would not have been able to make otherwise.

“I think we would’ve bought the house anyway, regardless of the $5,000,” says Stephanie, “but it definitely helped us out. With it being a model home it didn’t have many appliances, so we had some money left over to be able to purchase appliances right away.”

Scott, Stephanie and their family moved into their new home in March, and Nora was born just a couple of weeks ago. The couple isn’t sure exactly how long they’ll stay in the house, but they know that they’ll be staying in Sturgeon Bay for as long as they can.

“As the kids get bigger, the house might get a little smaller, but for the first few years we’re pretty set here,” says Scott.

“The big thing is, we just wanted to get up here,” says Stephanie. “We really love it up here and we’ve been looking to move up here for quite some time. We just feel much more a part of the community here than anywhere else we’ve lived.”