Work continues on Cameron Heights and Cottages at Cameron Heights, which are small subdivisions between North Fifth and North Fourth streets near Waco Drive and Bosque Boulevard.

Staff photo— Jerry Larson

Construction is once again underway at Cameron Heights and the Cottages at Cameron Heights. Waco homebuilder Steve Sorrells said his residential developments near downtown Waco are exceeding his expectations despite an arson that cost him six town homes and 18 months of progress.

His crews have completed 26 of the 50 lease homes that make up Cameron Heights, a gated community between North Fourth and North Fifth streets, near Bosque Boulevard and Waco Drive. He has secured lessees for every completed residence and likely will finish construction on the rest by the end of summer.

“We’re full and have been for quite a while,” Sorrells said.

Most of the people signing contracts to shell out $1,000 to $1,800 a month to lease the one-to-three-bedroom residences are young professionals, retirees or Baylor University graduate students, he said.

“We recently put on a party for the residents at the President’s Suite at McLane Stadium, just to show how much we appreciate them, say thanks and tell them what to expect from the upcoming construction and the for-sale units that soon will be arriving,” Sorrells said.

Near Cameron Heights, Sorrells has begun building the first three of 19 Cottages at Cameron Heights, which have been priced at $160,000 to $205,000.

Sorrells said he plans to have all 19 built in three years, but work may progress quicker if demand is there.

He said the homes will feature foam insulation, Energy Star appliance packages, granite countertops, hardwood floors and vaulted ceilings.

“Homes are going to be somewhat in the architectural style of those in Cameron Heights, but more of a cousin than a twin, and larger,” Sorrells said.

Retirees wanting to live near downtown and Baylor University already are inquiring about the homes, as are residents now renting units nearby.

“Some are from out of town, and they have become accustomed to a style of living from larger-market towns they are coming from,” Sorrells said.

He said he thinks young professionals and graduate students will find the product attractive, as will anyone who appreciates its proximity to the burgeoning inner city, development along Lake Brazos and the bike lanes nearby.

The homes will cover up to 1,600 square feet; have two, three or four bedrooms; and feature attached garages.

“I wanted to do a pocket neighborhood downtown and felt like I was pioneering into new territory,” Sorrells said. “The whole scene has been amazing. I’ve been getting a considerable amount of interest, and activity nearby has increased nicely. Baylor University continues to be great for what’s going on downtown, including the shuttles it provides to the football games. The Farmers Market grows in popularity, and we’re seeing more restaurants and retailers remodeling and making use of the old buildings.”

Sorrells, a longtime builder of custom homes, decided to join the movement, having relocated his office to 518 Austin Ave.

Fulfilling a need

Megan Henderson, executive director of City Center Waco, said the creation of Cameron Heights and the Cottages at Cameron Heights is fulfilling the need of those who want to enjoy the amenities of downtown but don’t want to live in an apartment or in a typical residence.

“They may not want to walk upstairs every day or may want a little more space, a little more yard,” Henderson said. “These are for retirees and young professionals who want the freedom to be where the action is.”

City Center Waco wants to explore the viability of living complexes of varying density, and Sorrells’ developments represent a useful case study.

The only hiccup in the development, Sorrells said, was the disastrous work of an arsonist in the summer of 2013, when flames that erupted before dawn leveled six units of Cameron Heights.

That crime was committed during a 22-month string of suspicious fires that destroyed two dozen houses in North Waco, most of them vacant.

“We finished replacing all of our properties lost last May, and they filled up immediately,” Sorrells said. “In regard to time, we lost a year and a half. The investigation actually went pretty well, but the process of dealing with something like this is always time consuming. You just have to power through.”

Sorrells said he did not have exact figures on the monetary value of the damage.

Sorrells also is making progress on a development called The Cloister at Cameron Park, a residential pocket near the heart of Cameron Park that will feature high-end custom homes. Sorrells will develop 11 lots designed around a shared green space on a cul-de-sac extension of Edward Drive.

The 11 lots are priced at $65,000 to $90,000, and about half already have been acquired, with construction scheduled to begin next week on one residence.

Custom homes

“All the homes will be custom homes, so they will be built according to the homeowners’ wishes,” Sorrells said. “I didn’t know what to think about the price of homes in Cameron Park, but I’m seeing plans for probably $300,000 to $500,000, with one or two stretching into the $750,000 range.”

Streets have been completed for The Cloister at Cameron Park, Sorrells said.

It will become one of the first developments in the city to use rain cisterns and other water-harvesting techniques that treat storm water as a resource rather than a waste product. It will also feature drought-tolerant trees, shrubs, perennials and grasses.

The land was owned by Baylor University philosophy professor Douglas Henry, for whom Sorrells will build a home.

“As everybody in Waco knows, Cameron Park is the crown jewel of the city,” said Henry, who bought the property in August of 2014. “We are excited about the wonderful events and new development in downtown Waco and around Baylor. We think the time is right for a new residential development in the heart of the city, and we hope that through our efforts we can bring additional life and energy and pride back to the heart of downtown Waco.”

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