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Hope on the horizon

A homeless village in Medford that has had its share of ups and downs over the past year may be edging closer to completion.

After various opening-day predictions came and went, Jim Keeter, project manager for Hope Village, agreed to stick his neck out and offer his best guess when the 14 tiny houses would open.

"I would be shocked if we can't be occupying by the end of the month," Keeter said.

Major changes to the project have required additional scrutiny by city planning and building staff, catching supporters of the tiny house project off-guard.

Keeter said he thinks his team understands all the requirements needed by the city, and once a sewer line issue is resolved, the project should quickly come together, possibly with some of Medford's homeless moving in by Oct. 1.

"I don't think there are any surprises left from the city," Keeter said.

The expanded scope of the project, at the corner of Columbus Avenue and McAndrews Road, has surprised city officials.

"It caught me off guard when they brought in the revised drawings," said Sam Barnum, city building director. He said the drawings were brought in about two months ago.

"They kind of expanded the project without sitting down with us beforehand," he said.

Originally, the City Council agreed to allow the village on a single city lot, but three other lots were leased to allow expanded facilities, a move that annoyed many city councilors. However, the original pilot project for 14 tiny houses has remained the same.

Barnum has signed off on most of the electrical and plumbing changes and reviewed the recent drawings, giving him some confidence the city may be wrapping up its approvals shortly.

"I think they should have it in the next week," he said.

On Tuesday, Barnum approved a system to keep the modular shower and kitchen facilities anchored to the ground to prevent them from blowing over in a strong wind.

Cory Crebbin, Public Works director, said his office received engineering drawings to hook up one of the village properties to the sewer line about two weeks ago.

Because the village doesn't correspond with other developments the city has reviewed in the past, the department has had a difficult time determining the development charges. As a result, the project will have to be reviewed by the Regional Technical Advisory Group to determine the appropriate fee.

"I don't anticipate it is going to take them very long," Crebbin said.

The sewer connection became a requirement after Hope Village leased the other properties, including one with a building that was connected to a septic system. Since the building was going to be converted into an office, it needed to be hooked to the sewer line.

Even if the city signs off in the near future, Hope Village supporters still have other things to do to ready the project for its first homeless tenants. Installation of flooring in the tiny houses and office is already underway. The tiny houses already have been erected.

A partially built fence will be completed as soon as the sewer line is hooked up and the contractor can return to the job site.

But some supporters have expressed dismay at the long wait for a project that was supposed to open last winter.

Dasja Dolan, a Medford photographer who has been documenting the progress at Hope Village, wrote in a letter to the Mail Tribune on Sept. 5, "What's the hold up?"

She said the city has delayed permits while the homeless continue to be disappointed.

"Each delay means another two weeks of sleeping on the streets, or trying to find a safe spot to park their car overnight," Dolan said. "I beg the city to speed up its permit process so that the first residents of Hope Village may finally move in and begin their transition into mainstream society."

Chad McComas, executive director of Rogue Retreat, which has spearheaded the project, said he won't give a definite date for opening yet. 

"It's going to happen," he said. "I'm not going to say anything more."

McComas said applying and waiting for city approvals has pushed ahead the dates when contractors can get in to do the work.

"It's a painful process," McComas said. "We will learn from our mistakes."

— Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow him on www.twitter.com/reporterdm.