April 30, 2005 in Idaho

Silver Valley yielding new commodity: homes

By The Spokesman-Review
 

In a sign of the Silver Valley’s rising fortunes, Realtors are preparing to sell lots in the first new subdivision platted in the historic mining district in nearly 30 years.

Eight people are lined up to build $300,000 to $500,000 homes in Silver Meadows at Frost Point, near the city of Pinehurst. Faux farmhouses, Northwest lodges and Craftsman revival-inspired homes will spring up on half-acre lots overlooking the Pinehurst Golf Course. By mid-June, the first 50 parcels should be ready for sale.

Inquiries have been pouring in, even though the developer can’t legally advertise the 177-lot subdivision until the roads are built and the utilities are installed, said Gary Schenkenberger, a Century 21 Beutler & Associates sales agent who is listing the property.

“We’ve had a great response,” he said. “If you want to build a new home in the valley right now, you’re going to be right in the middle of 30-year-old homes or older. There’s no place you can build a new home in the middle of other new homes.”

Silver Meadows, located on an old dairy farm, was envisioned in the late 1970s, when well-paying mining jobs made the valley a thriving rural center. But decades of economic struggles quashed the need for new housing. Hundreds of families left the region after the Bunker Hill mine and smelter complex closed. Layoffs and closures at other mines followed.

Now, however, the local real estate market is rebounding. Investors are buying up vacant houses for ski cabins and summer rentals. “Miners’ specials” – older, two- or three-bedroom homes that sold for $50,000 a year ago – now command prices around $80,000.

The trend mirrors North Idaho’s booming real estate market. Rising prices reflect low inventories, overall population growth and demand for resort properties and second homes.

Last year, Silver Mountain started construction on 68 condo units, the first phase of a long-awaited expansion at the Kellogg ski hill that will eventually include an 18-hole golf course and 1,000 residential units. This summer, Silver Mountain’s owners expect to announce plans for the second phase of condos.

The valley is also becoming a destination for bicyclists, who come to ride miles of former railroad beds converted into bike trails.

Given those two indicators, Silver Meadows’ latest owner – Roald Ramsey, of Bend, Ore. – thought the time was right for an upscale subdivision, according to Schenkenberger.

“We expect a lot of people from out of the area to buy these homes,” Schenkenberger said. “We’re four miles from the gondola. The rails-to-trail is right below us, and you can also fly-fish below us on the Coeur d’Alene River.

“It’s nice to see the Silver Valley taking a turn for the better,” he added. “It’s mainly on the heels of Silver Mountain’s expansion.”

Recent job growth and wage gains are reducing poverty levels in Shoshone County, said Kathryn Tacke, the state’s regional labor economist for the Idaho Panhandle. According to federal estimates, the county’s median family income grew from $32,800 to $36,500 from 2001 to 2004.

The county’s year-round population, however, continues to decline. Over the past four years, Shoshone County’s population dropped nearly 7 percent, to fewer than 13,000 residents. The numbers don’t reflect part-time residents who own vacation property in the area.

The Silver Meadows subdivision is part of a spurt of activity at Shoshone County’s western edge, said Kenny Hicks, county building administrator.

Wal-Mart is looking at land near the Smelterville exit on Interstate 90. Other property owners are scrambling to get other parcels divided and on the market.

The area is a relatively short commute to Coeur d’Alene – about 25 minutes to downtown in good weather, Hicks noted. “This flurry of speculation started the day that Silver Mountain stuck the shovel in the ground for the Morning Star Lodge condo units,” he said. “I think we’re on our way to a year-round resort and all that implies.”

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