WINNEBAGO, Neb. -- Some problems are good ones to have.
Consider this: From 2000 to 2016, the number of employed workers on the Winnebago Reservation in Nebraska increased 18 percent to 473 workers. At the same time, the median household income on the reservation grew 83 percent, a rate that was 39 percent higher than South Dakota’s and 46 percent higher than Nebraska’s.
Indeed, the reservation’s median household income grew at a rate 52 percent higher than the national average.
All of this growth, however, has created a strain on a reservation community that has a limited stock of quality, affordable housing.
In recent years, the Winnebago Tribe’s economic development corporation, Ho-Chunk Inc., has begun addressing this problem by constructing new homes and developing a homebuyer assistance program that provides up to $65,000 in down payment assistance to individual tribal homebuyers.
That homebuyer assistance program has provided 55 households with $2.44 million in down payment assistance since 2002.
No doubt if you’ve driven through Winnebago in recent years you’ve seen the product of these efforts – most visibly within Ho-Chunk Village on the community’s northern edge. New, modern homes are sprinkled beside contemporary office and apartment buildings. A coffee shop and restaurant grace a main street that leads to a roundabout adorned with statues of former tribal leaders.
Now Ho-Chunk Inc. is planning the next major housing expansion in the northeast Nebraska community and is already receiving accolades for its plans.
In late February, the Nebraska Chapter of the American Planning Association awarded the company with its prestigious Urban Design Award for the Master Plan for its housing expansion, which is being called Ho-Chunk Village 2.0.
“The jury felt that sensitive design taking into consideration topography, tradition, ecology and the modern needs of a variety of household types help create a community from scratch using planning best practices,” wrote Bruce Fountain, president of the association’s Nebraska chapter.
Lance Morgan, president and CEO of Ho-Chunk Inc., said Ho-Chunk Village 2.0 will be a lot like its predecessor, though even more ambitious in its scope. Construction on the infrastructure for the three-phase project will begin this summer.
When completed, the development will include 281 new housing units spread across nearly 140 acres adjacent to or near the existing Ho-Chunk Village. The company plans to use a mix of Indian Health Service funds, grants, New Market Tax Credits and its own funds to pay for development.
Morgan said the original 40-acre Ho-Chunk Village has been nearly completely built-out, but housing needs continue to increase in the rapidly growing reservation community.
“It’s just about full so we had to plan for the next stage of it,” he said. “It’s really the natural outgrowth of our original plan.”
In fall 2017, Ho-Chunk Inc. undertook a master planning effort to design three neighborhoods adjacent or near to the existing Ho-Chunk Village, a mixed-use, pedestrian-oriented neighborhood. The three new developments have been designed to seamlessly tie into the existing Ho-Chunk Village.
A 40-acre site that is fully owned by Ho-Chunk Inc. is located directly north of the existing village and abuts U.S. Highway 77. The site features a wetland area in its northwest corner and a gradual slope running west to east across its entirety. A second, 80-acre site, which is partially owned by the company, is located to the east of the current village and the new 40-acre site. The largest site is marked by undulating terrain and a wooded creek in its southeast corner.
The last, 20-acre site is removed from the other two new sites and is about 1.5 miles southeast of the existing village. A steep slope runs downhill from north to south within the site, which is wholly owned by Ho-Chunk Inc.
A Master Plan for Ho-Chunk Village 2.0 calls for the most dense development on the 40-acre site to the north of Ho-Chunk Village, with single- and multi-family buildings mixed with retail, office and light industrial buildings. A main street corridor, designed with a streetscape characteristic of a traditional downtown commercial area, will run south from a Village Square and connect to the existing village.
“It has kind of a small town main street,” said Doug Bisson, urban design and planning manager for HDR of Omaha, which developed the project’s Master Plan.
The 40-acre site also includes a neighborhood park, community square and plaza space, and a natural meadow area with seating. The site will be built on a traditional street grid pattern.
Plans for the 80-acre site call for the traditional street grid pattern from the 40-acre site to transition to a meandering, boulevard-type layout that will follow the ridgelines of the larger site. Homes in the 80-acre site will be larger estate homes, and the entire site will feature natural open spaces with native grasses and wildflowers. A large natural open space in the southeast corner of the site would include a ceremonial plaza and amphitheater, two event lawns, community garden plots and orchards.
Within the 20-acre site, a loop street will be lined with small estate homes. A small neighborhood open space will be built adjacent to a low meadow and wetland area. Much of the site will feature a restored native prairie landscape and a trail that will meander through the prairie to a scenic overlook on the site’s highest point.
The 40-acre and 80-acre sites would both feature a unified trail system and sidewalks along all streets that will connect all major open spaces. A widened, tree-lined path, known as the Village Greenway, will provide a north-south spine running from the 40-acre site into the existing village. The path will accommodate pedestrians and bicyclists.
A nature trail will connect the Village Greenway at a park within the 40-acre site to the 80-acre site and will feature crushed native stone and offer access to community gardens, orchards and ceremonial spaces.
“The idea was to create a very walkable neighborhood,” Bisson said. “It’s been incredibly successful over the years.”
He said the design award from the Nebraska Chapter of the American Planning Association is highly competitive and demonstrates how effective the Ho-Chunk Village 2.0 Master Plan balances housing needs with green space, roads and trails.
“We didn’t come in and try to grade everything down, but we worked with nature and were able to accomplish what we want,” he said.