And the road goes on forever...

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Search Commences

I spent the better part of last week running around Amherst and Stevens Point looking at lots. We know we eventually want to be in a position to build a home so I thought it prudent to get an idea of lot costs and also compare what is available in resale homes offered. As little as a couple years ago, there was plenty of inventory of older homes, many of which had been foreclosed on and were offered at really good prices. The choice then would have been to maximize dollars spent and buy a resale.

Today however, things have changed. Most of the good foreclosures have been absorbed, inventory is down and prices have increased. Given that much of the housing stock is old there is always the possibility of major rehab expense so in analyzing the situation it makes more sense for us to just build exactly what we want. We know we want a very modest home in terms of size and amenities; property taxes in Wisconsin are very high compared to what we are used to and we wouldn’t want to be in a situation of going into retirement owning more house than we really need. After RVing for so long, even 1000 s.f. seems like a palace to us!

I came away from the week’s travels much more educated and feeling comfortable with our decision that indeed, building would be our best decision. Then it became a matter of making a decision between locating near Amherst or Stevens Point. I think we’ve made up our mind that our village should win out on that score since it is ridiculously easy and inexpensive to build here. There is no plan review, we submit plans directly to the one building inspector who is available every Monday and he includes up to 8 inspections for free; building permit costs are under $500 total; there are absolutely no impact or SDC fees charged, and wonder of wonders, hooking up to municipal utilities (water, sewer, gas) is free. Yes: I said FREE. I must have had a complete look of incredulity on my face when I learned this from the village administrator Marcy because she responded “WE want you here!” Alrighty then….without further ado, some of the possibilities.

You’ll see why looking at land can be so exhausting! My wandering around Stevens Point took me to some choice opportunities, but always with some catch. This half acre lot on Ann Drive in the village of Hull, about six miles north of Point (offered under $20,000) was very nice and even had a mature apple tree bursting with crisp, fresh, tasty apples! It also fronted a relatively busy county road. Cross it off the list.
Not far from Ann Drive, still in Hull, is a cul-de-sac road with four acreage parcels, each consisting of four acres and all priced in the low $20’s. But, the cul-de-sac is not far from busy, noisy I-39 and it also sits out by itself with no close neighbors. When I was younger I loved the idea of being a country dweller but at my age I have come to appreciate the amenities and security a neighborhood can offer. With Marc traveling often on his job the last place I want to be is way out in the country by myself in the event of an emergency. Cross these off the list.
This acre piece located only about three miles from old town Point even had the advantage of small river frontage and a dead end road in a country setting. It also had a couple of neighbors. But at the top of the price list near $50,000 it would have made for a very long “wrong side of the city” commute for Marc. So given the price, cross it off the list.
Located in a good area of Plover near to the Walmart and most major shopping in Point, this small subdivision offered up two acre parcels in the mid $40’s. However, it was carved out of a tree plantation and the entire lot was thickly covered in the same size and species tree. What on earth would a person do with all this lumber? I noted the neighboring homes had clear cut enough trees to make for their building envelope and then left the rest just wooded as was. Hum, not my idea of a fun place to live. Scratch this one.
In Amherst, I found a couple of country subdivisions filled with McMansions. They felt far out but in reality were probably less than 2-3 miles from town. Most parcels were a minimum of two acres (lots are big here) and were reasonably priced from high 20’s to mid 30’s. Although lovely, in rolling wooded hills filled with flocks of turkey, looking at my potential neighbors filled me with dismay. We don’t want a McMansion! Plus, with obvious CCR’s, where would Marc be able to park all his “stuff” and trailers? Not here certainly! Off the list it comes.

Heading towards Plover on County Rd. B I looked at a two acre parcel very well priced in the low $20’s. It sat sandwiched between the county road and a circular neighborhood road thus roads on front and back. Hmmm, don’t like that. It also had a slight swale to it, indicating there could be standing water potential in spring thaw. Besides the one loop neighborhood road there would be nowhere to walk directly from the property since County B is too busy and narrow. Cross this off the list.
I really liked this in town lot offered in the high $20’s but upon inspection Marc didn’t feel the same. Scratch.
We gave thought to this FSBO also in town because it was a huge lot for town, 1.5 acres. As if two surrounding roads on the above piece weren’t enough, this parcel was surrounded on three sides by roads! Too bad because it was level and very usable but busy County B and the thought of a squished Rocket if he ever got out convinced us it isn’t for us.
I’ve saved the best for last. Across the street from our apartment is a forested section of land with three lots available. They have been for sale for quite awhile. They are owned by a lady richer than God so I’m not sure just how much motivation for a sale actually exists on her end. Two of the lots are perfect size at around .8 acre. Not too big, not too small. It’s in the village with no CCR’s or any requirements save for the fact that any residence must be at least 900 s.f. All city utilities are already stubbed at the lot; there is a tremendous feeling of being in the country right in the city. How much simpler could it get? A little clearing for a building envelope, leaving perimeter vegetation for privacy (the parcels back to around five acres of forested vacant land), with no immediate neighbors at the current time—ah, this could be just right for our little Northwood’s cabin! Stay tuned!

Friday, October 18, 2013

A Different Perspective

(I wrote this about a week ago and since then we have definitely turned the corner into the beginnings of winter! Temps are now in the 40’s and our first light snow is expected tomorrow.) I figure readers may be tiring of fall photographs soon so this could likely be my last entry to feature them. Personally, it’s my favorite time of year and I could go out of my way looking at changing colors from now on out! I think we have been at fall’s apex in this area as not only are colors starting to dim but trees are also losing many leaves to wind and weather. We’ve enjoyed a pretty nice Indian summer lately, with only a few cooler days of rain but mainly sunny and above average temps. 

For someone born and raised in the west, the east is an adjustment topographically and emotionally. I think it is only because I am at the stage of life that I am, that I can now fully appreciate and welcome the differences without disparaging the one because of its less apparent and blatant magnificence of scenery. Wisconsin does not have the swaths of wide open public and un-peopled lands that we are used to; indeed, small forest patches are usually interspersed with farms and country residences. The entire state was denuded of its original forest growth long ago by logging for the huge paper mills so what remains is second growth and plantation forests so often they are very uniform in appearance. Wisconsin is a heavily forested state however. Forests are decidedly more mixed with deciduous than what we find in the west which gives an interesting cast to fall colors because there will be spots of brilliance popping against the deep green of evergreens.
What I have learned about appreciating Wisconsin is that I must scale back my perspective and not expect miles and miles of open beautiful vistas. As a friend likes to claim about his views from his home of the gorgeous Colorado Rocky Mountains, his view are in IMAX; my views are now on the scale of a vignette. They can be lovely, but they are compact and of an entirely different nature, often man-made in fact. The joy is not lessened; it is merely different. Although I would be remiss to say I don’t miss the west, I am also honestly happy to be here to appreciate something so entirely different and well, comforting. For me now, turning to a more domestic scene after years and years spent on the road as a vagabond, this is what I crave and enjoy. It is feeling like “home” already.
On with fall! I snap pictures as I walk around Amherst, further exploring the neighborhoods of this lovely village. The last photo is telephoto from my apartment yard of the small hillside behind us.
Marc goes along as we explore a county park, Lake Emily, with its campground, playground and warm water with sandy beach not even five miles from home. Lake Emily is bordered by one of the marvelous recreational trails Wisconsin is so good at making, which uses an abandoned railroad bed. This trail runs for many miles and is multiuse with an immediately adjacent horse trail. Today we see joggers and bikers; come winter it will change to cross-country skiers.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Just a Day in the Village

Marc is getting ready for another departure this coming week to North Dakota where he’ll brave the already falling temps and muddy quagmire of his job sites, so we decided a relaxing day of local entertainment was in order. Central Water’s Brewery is in the business park directly behind the corn field behind our apartment complex and it serves as the headquarters for a big charity event held yearly called Lettie’s River Run. It is the major fundraiser for a well-supported community center here in Amherst and at 10 a.m. sharp we saw hundreds run past us on their five mile course. Once the run was over, there was a party and Amherst Beer Fest being held at the brewery from noon to 5 p.m. complete with two bands and a brat BBQ. More about that later.
We headed into downtown Steven’s Point so Marc could sign up for a library card as he has discovered audio books on CD, figuring they would be a good way to pass the ten hour drive to North Dakota. Once we finished with that we wandered over to the Saturday farmer’s market in the square, which will soon be winding down for the season. I always love the color and the freshness offered up at these kinds of things.
By 3 p.m., we ourselves were ready to join in the festivities at the brewery so we walked over and were surprised by the crowds. Marc’s company built the brewery, in fact, just got done adding on an addition as the brewery has enjoyed tremendous success and growth in its nearly 16 years. We actually lucked in to a brew we both enjoyed from Central Water’s called Peruvian Morning Brand Stout, which was a dark bourbon keg aged beer with heavy notes of coffee and bourbon! Wisconsinites do love their beer and the crowd seemed to be really enjoying itself right down to the smallest members being pushed by parents in strollers. What a great day!

Friday, October 11, 2013

A Steven’s Point Gem

For a town its size, I have never seen one before with so many parks and recreational areas. Many of the parks are left in a quasi-natural state and one of the best is Schmeeckle Reserve, immediately north and adjacent to the University of Wisconsin campus. What led me to this area was that I was looking for natural hiking trails that would afford good photo opportunities and this did not disappoint.
This area is part of the greater Green Circle Trail which circles the town of Stevens Point and travels for 26 miles. Off the Green Circle are many lesser trails and spurs, one of which is called Lake Joanis Loop which is what I walked today. While it is only a mile in length it is part of the five miles of trails which are available as spurs in this 280 acre natural area. It was amazing to be essentially totally alone in such natural woods in the middle of the city! Wow, was all I could think! What a resource for this city. These trails meld with others, cover diverse habitat of forest, prairie, wetlands and oak savanna and are designated for bikers, hikers and in winter, cross country skiers. A portion of the reserve is wheelchair accessible and done on boardwalk.
Lake Joanis is available for canoeing, kayaking and shore fishing but not swimming. Today, other than a lone fisherman, only the Canadian geese were using it. It is a serene oasis right in the city. Wow again!