By Sam Jack
The leaders of Wichita charity Let’s Rock and Roll and Change the World are considering Bergmann’s Corn Maze, located half a mile south of 79th Street on Meridian, as a possible site for the tiny home village they are hoping to build in the Wichita area.
The corn maze business and the 78 acres it sits on are currently for sale, with an asking price of $560,000. Charity founder Bob Johnson said his group views the corn maze property as one with good possibilities and would like to buy it if they can raise the needed funds.
“The nonprofit has been in existence for six years now, and I’ve been working with the homeless for upwards of 30 years,” Johnson said. “Basically the idea of a tiny home village is a hand up, not a hand out.”
The tiny home community Johnson envisions would include approximately 150 stick-built tiny homes. Such homes usually have 200 to 400 square feet of floor space. The disabled or formerly homeless people living in the homes would be supported by on-site services, including medical, dental and social services.
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“What that does is sets them up for success, instead of the failure of having to worry about, ‘How am I going to get there?’ If you have services three to four blocks away, you’re more apt to use them and we’re more apt to be helpful to the individuals that need those services,” said co-founder Kimberly Sims.
Families with children, as well as couples and single people, would be part of the community. Those with histories of violent or sexual crime would be screened out.
Residents would contribute “sweat equity,” possibly helping to build their own tiny homes. And the existing businesses at Bergmann’s Corn Maze – the maze, the pumpkin patch, pony rides, petting zoo, etc. – could be run by residents.
“We really do like the layout of what’s already going on there,” Sims said. “Being a self-sustaining village, you need to have that generated income.”
Sims and Johnson pointed to the Community First Village in Austin, Texas, as a model of what they would like to accomplish in the Wichita area.
“When I spoke to the Haysville Planning Commission, one gentleman was very adamant about, ‘We don’t want those people in our community, because we don’t want another blighted community.’ Well, (Community First Village) is an $18 million complex, and it’s absolutely fantastic,” Johnson said. “It’s a city within a city. It breaks the stigma attached to the homeless. … The problem we have in the homeless and poor out on the streets is that they’re in survival mode. They wake up and the biggest goal is to get something to eat.”
During the May 10 meeting Johnson attended, the Haysville Planning Commission voted to table consideration of tiny home district regulations. The commission met again May 24 and voted 5-3 not to recommend approval.
On June 11, the Haysville City Council voted unanimously to overrule the planning commission and approve the tiny home regulations.
Mayor Bruce Armstrong said that Let’s Rock and Roll and Change the World’s interest in Bergmann’s Corn Maze and presence during the discussion process may have caused confusions about what issues were at stake with passage of the tiny home regulations.
“That’s the thing that I think people have become too focused on,” Armstrong said. “This group was there, but we don’t know anything about any groups that are coming in anywhere. All this is is truly (about) being able to be proactive. If we get (a tiny home development), it may not be homeless people – who knows? We have no idea. This truly is so that the city itself can control and protect its borders, and be able to control what gets built in those areas.”
Staff members were already at work on the regulations when officials first became aware of the charity’s interest in the corn maze property, Armstrong said, and the city did not develop the regulations at any outside party’s request.