CHIPPEWA FALLS — When Mike Cohoon began working on plans for tiny homes — portable homeless shelters — he envisioned a long-term plan of creating the “Hope Village,” bringing the tiny homes into one central location, which would also include a permanent building that features showers and bathrooms.

That plan is moving closer to reality.

Cohoon, a pastor at Landmark Christian Church in Lake Hallie, said his group is planning to purchase a former dental office at 1825 Kennedy Road on the East Hill of Chippewa Falls. The tiny homes would be placed behind the 2,000-square-foot building, with the dental offices gutted and renovated.

“We had a property search committee,” Cohoon said Friday. “We looked at a number of properties in the past five years. We haven’t purchased the building yet, but we have a contract for it, to close in February. We purchased the two 1-acre lots next to it. We’ve been fundraising over the years, so we had money set aside to do that.”

Cohoon said the dental office seems like an ideal building in a great location. It would be renovated and turned into offices, meeting rooms, plus a kitchen area and shower rooms.

“And it has a full basement, so there is room for storage or more community space,” Cohoon said. “We felt it was priced right, and we wouldn’t have to build a central building. And it’s the size we were looking for.”

Cohoon said they are confident the building can be repurposed to meet their needs, particularly adding the shower areas.

“As a dental office, almost every room has plumbing running to it,” he said.

City approval needed

The Hope Village plans were brought before the Chippewa Falls City Council on Tuesday. The council will likely set a special hearing on the project in late January or early February, said Mayor Greg Hoffman. The 3-acre site would need to be rezoned from C-4 highway commercial use to R-3-8 multi-family, city records state.

“I don’t see a problem with it,” Hoffman said of the proposal. “I think it’s an excellent location. We haven’t had any problems with the tiny homes in Chippewa Falls — no police calls, nothing. I think it’s something the community needs.”

According to the timeline presented to the city, Cohoon’s group plans to refurbish the dental office in 2021 and move the tiny homes to the Hope Village in 2022.

Hoffman said the dental office closed perhaps three years ago. He noted there aren’t any nearby houses, as the land is largely in an industrial area. A Subway restaurant in an adjacent building is among the few commercial buildings nearby. The tiny homes would be adjacent to the East Hill’s water tower and train tracks that separate the industrial park from residential neighborhoods.

“It’s one of the benefits of this property ... it’s not in the midst of a residential area,” Cohoon said. “We’d have electricity run to them, out of the ground, onto posts they can connect to.”

Cohoon said his group’s long-term plans call for also constructing several low-income duplexes on the site. But for now, the focus is on buying the building and remodeling it.

Tiny homes taking off

In February 2017, the City Council approved the first conditional permit for two tiny homes to be placed at Trinity United Methodist Church, and has since approved permits for other locations in the city: two have been placed at Chippewa Valley Bible Church on the south side of Chippewa Falls, two at Notre Dame Parish on the East Hill, and one is at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church on the city’s West Hill. Another two are located at Landmark Christian Church in Lake Hallie.

Cohoon said a ninth home is near completion, and they hope to construct a 10th unit soon.

A tiny home is mobile, built on a trailer, featuring a chemical toilet, heater, chair, table and bed. Each house costs between $5,000 and $7,000 to complete, between construction and furnishings. Most of the units already completed and in use are 8-by-12 feet or 8-by-15 feet in size.

The goal has always been to bring them into one central location.

“We always wanted to be close to the downtown corridor,” Cohoon said. While this site isn’t in downtown, “we’ll be close to the industrial park, where our guests can find jobs,” he said.

According to the permit the City Council approved in 2017, the portable toilet must be emptied daily in the church’s bathroom. It also states there is a zero-tolerance policy on illegal activities, and alcohol, illegal drugs and guns or other weapons are banned from the homes.

Other rules stated in the special use permit include that no outside guests are allowed, cars must be parked in parking lots and not on lawns, and that no open flames — including candles or cigarettes — are allowed inside, and the guest will lock the door whenever they leave the premises.

Residents staying in tiny homes need to pass a background check first. Police have reported no problems with residents in the homes.

Chippewa Falls hasn’t had a homeless shelter since the Harmony House closed in February 2014. The Chippewa Falls Mission Coalition, a group of 17 area churches, has been working on ways to fill the void since Harmony House closed.