Long-gone Chick’s Golf Driving Range had operated for decades at Troost Avenue and 89th Street, unbeknownst to the small band of military brothers who decided in 2015 to build tiny houses there.
Then as the Veterans Community Project and dozens of volunteers cleared the site of brush, with plans of making it a neighborhood for homeless veterans, they noticed golf balls in the soil. The things would pop to the surface after a good rain.
That was amusing until organizers learned that the 4.2 acres they had acquired had never been used as anything but a driving range.
“Bad news: You’ve got no sewer lines,” a civil engineer told project co-founder Chris Stout early last year.
Last week, ground was broken to begin the sewer work — finally, in the view of ex-Army man Stout and other Iraq and Afghanistan veterans whose tiny-house idea caught fire with national media and private donors.
“Back when we started down this path, I was like, let’s do this in three to six months,” Stout said. “Get those tiny houses up.
“This isn’t simple. But the delays were for a good reason. Everyone, including people with the city, want this done right.”
Veterans Village aims to offer free, temporary shelter and nearby services to homeless people with a military background. Even if they served a brief stint in the reserves or were subject to a dishonorable discharge — conditions that may disqualify veterans from receiving government help — a 240-square-feet house would be available for a time.
A few weeks after buying the property for $500 from the Kansas City Land Bank, leaders of the privately funded project were stunned that their planned village stretched more than 700 feet from the nearest sewer line. And even then, the land sloped in the wrong direction for tying in.
The least expensive option was building a $175,000 pumping station that ultimately would cost the city millions of dollars in ongoing maintenance, Stout said.
But thanks mostly to pledges of donated time and materials from several local construction companies, a conventional system of 1,700 linear feet of pipe will be installed. The village’s flushing future also got a boost of about $100,000 in grant money from the city’s Public Improvement Advisory Committee, said Special Assistant City Manager Andy Shively.
“A lot of contractors I work with just stepped up to the plate for this,” Shively said.
For a time, the veterans group thought of searching for another site. As donations and corporate support continued to roll in, the sewer situation put off hopes for having 10 residents settled by the start of 2017. A springtime move-in turned to an August goal, which has been extended now to maybe an October home-opening.
“We hope,” said project operations officer Kevin Jamison, a Marine veteran who acknowledged that infrastructure design wasn’t high on the group’s list of skills.
“From my perspective,” echoed the team’s legal officer, Bryan Meyer, also a Marine veteran, “the whole sewer issue has been the biggest hurdle yet. We can build tiny houses — that’s not too tough,” and each costs only about $10,000 to construct.
For now, the first several houses take up space on blocks behind the project’s Veterans Outreach Center, which until April was an empty auto-parts store. Dozens of area veterans already visit the building daily to obtain free bus passes, access the internet and attend job fairs.
As for the empty field across Troost, “the city has been a pretty strong partner in getting this project completed,” said Chris Hernandez of the city communications office.
With diggers now at the site, it’s anyone’s guess how many golf balls they’ll find.