Omaha neighbors leery of Habitat for Humanity new vision of development

WOWT 6 News Live at 6:30
Published: Sep. 24, 2021 at 6:26 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Habitat for Humanity is taking over 16 acres near 52nd and Sorensen Pkwy. The organization is planning to build 88 new single-family homes, its largest project to date in Omaha.

But not everyone is thrilled with the plan.

“We’re going to do some walking paths, Wakonda Elementary School is right over there in that direction.”

As Tracie McPherson of Habitat for Humanity walks the 16-acre site, reminders of the old Wintergreen Apartment complex are still visible.

“This area is short units of affordable housing. Eighty-eight new homes puts a small dent in it, but it still matters to those 88 families. They’re going to own that land, they’re going to own that house, and there’s just a different mentality when you own it. This is not rental property, this is homeowners that will be paying mortgage payments, paying property taxes just like you do and these families are looking for that opportunity,” said McPherson.

Habit is working to provide a geothermal water system and is working with OPPD. New home construction will begin next fall.

Terrance Mackey lives nearby.

“It puts people in places to live. I mean, any way you can better yourself, I’m for that yeah. As long as you take care of your property, that’s cool but the little deers [sic] are going to have a hard time because they are confused.

The deer won’t be moved out for a while. McPherson says it will take some time to clean up this property and put in infrastructure.

“For 17 years, it’s been vacant. But it’s been an opportunity for 17 years. An opportunity for developers like Habitat to come in and to write a new chapter for this place,” said McPherson.

“I understand that Omaha needs more sustainable housing or affordable housing but we also have to think about what about what’s been here for so many years,” said Joy Bartling.

Joy Bartling runs Scatter Joy Acres, a nonprofit petting zoo for children abutting the Habitat development. Bartling is concerned about water issues created by 88 new homes in an area that already has drainage issues.

“I had concerns about water retention. How are you going to control this because it hasn’t been controlled? If there’s a sewer that backs up and that has happened then it flows into our creek that we have in our area and then we have to move our animals to a safe paddock until we can get that flushed out.”

With more people in the immediate area, Bartling is also concerned about vandalism, which she says is already happening.

“I can put up as many no trespassing signs as I want but you have teenagers or kids that see a cow across the fence and I want to go pet the cow and they get hurt, I’m still liable.”

She is hoping the development will include fencing, separating the properties to keep residents and the animals safe. Bartling also wonders what’s to become of wildlife that’s already here.

“You step from the city to the country within a couple of tire spins of your car and in this day and age, money talks and that’s the sad thing. That money talks and nature doesn’t end up being the winner in it.”

Tracie McPherson says the new homeowners will be responsible for making mortgage payments, adding property taxes to city coffers. Joy Bartling says she hopes Habitat for Humanity’s plan for homeownership brings in people dedicated to improving the area.

New single-family houses are in plans to be developed in North Omaha, making good use of the old Wintergreen apartments site near 52nd and Sorensen.

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