Hydroponic farm, housing project planned near Pablo

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A developer planning an ambitious housing project and hydroponic farm near Pablo believes his company is on the brink of realizing its goal after years of wrangling grants, permits and community support.

Previously the farm and residential development were going to be adjacent to each other, but the developer has switched course and is putting each on separate lots a little under 3 miles away.

The firm, Hawaii-based Aloha Noblehouse Inc., which has an executive director and president based in Marion, plans to construct a commercial farm on a 31-acre site on Minesinger Trail, just off U.S. 93 south of Polson toward Pablo.

Just less than 3 miles away, closer to Pablo, will be an 80-unit single-family housing development that will offer low-priced mortgages. Both properties are on the Flathead Indian Reservation.

The idea is that people who choose to live in the housing should be able to support themselves and their family by working a job at the nearby agricultural production facility, said Gerald Greenstein, president of Aloha Noblehouse. He intends the project to enhance food security and affordable-housing options and promote economic development in the area between Polson and Pablo.

“Our area is desperately in need of affordable housing,” said Jodie Paxton, executive director of the Ronan Housing Authority.

Paxton said she supported the project, and was in talks with the developers early on to manage the housing when it was going to contain rental units.

They have since switched to plans to sell the units so the housing authority is no longer involved, but Paxton said the proximity to Salish Kootenai College would make the development an important addition to the area.

“Unfortunately it’s tough to live here, it’s tough to find a job that can pay for what it costs to own a home,” Paxton said. “I think it would go a long way toward assisting those who are in a lower income bracket to buy a home.”

The developer, in an application for a New Markets Tax Credit, states the housing portion of the development will include an electric vehicle charging station, a daycare for children between 2 and 5 years of age, community center and a triage nurse station. A triage nurse is generally referred to as the first nurse to evaluate a patient, determine the severity of the maladies and decide where to refer them for more comprehensive care.

The organization has yet to file for any permits with Lake County that would be needed before construction were to begin, said Jacob Feistner, director of the Lake County Planning Department.

They have received letters of support from several organizations, including the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes and the Ronan School District. The project has also been endorsed by the Lake County commissioners and the Salish Kootenai Housing Authority.

Greenstein and his colleagues at Aloha Noblehouse are still working to pull together the funding they need to begin construction. He hopes the project will provide a sustainable business model that could act as a catalyst for similar developments to go up throughout the nation. Aloha Noblehouse also holds property in Hawaii and is in the final stages of processing an acquisition in Idaho.

The proposed sites will operate with a mixture of renewable energy resources, and the developer hopes to get them as close to carbon-neutral as they can, according to an executive summary of the project.

While the farm would be small in size compared to most commercial farms, the developer hopes to have a large output by producing year-round in a large greenhouse-like setting using hydroponic farming techniques. Aloha Noblehouse predicts the project could create between 25 and 40 jobs, according to a copy of its business plan.

The developer plans to grow organic lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, yellow squash, zucchini and peppers, as well as basil and thyme. The business plan states the company will seek USDA organic certification and seek production contracts with the food supplier giant Sysco.

They estimate their total annual sales to be in the range of 1,600 tons of food, totaling about $4.4 million the first year, according to the executive summary. They expect it to grow closer to $5 million in following years.

The developers say they would like to partner with Salish Kootenai College, the Montana University System and nearby Kicking Horse Job Corps for educational opportunities and to help find people to staff the facility.

The application also states they will seek to install a restaurant attached to the agricultural production facility. It would be operated as a privately held, for-profit limited liability company.

The project has gained the approval of the Lake County Community Development Corporation.

“As an agency that works on economic development, we absolutely support developments that add new housing, create jobs and add value to agriculture in the area,” said Gypsy Ray, executive director of the Lake County Community Development Corp. “From what I’m aware of, all of those things would be part of the program if successful.”

Ray noted that while she had spoken with the developers and supported the project, she had not worked closely with them in recent weeks or months. She said they were still seeking funding and investors, and that had been the major hurdle for a while.

The single-family residences are expected to begin in the $140,000 range, and Aloha Noblehouse has arranged options with financiers to make competitive mortgages attainable for those with good credit. The default design will be three bedrooms and one bath, Greenstein said, but could be altered for an additional fee if enough prospective residents express interest.

The developer also has been angling for a New Markets Tax Credit, a federal tax credit available for ventures that include investment in low-income areas of the United States. The credits would go toward the agricultural project only, not the housing portion.

The tax-credit program was nearly eliminated in the negotiation process for the new federal tax plan that passed through Congress just before Christmas. Aloha Noblehouse contacted Montana’s U.S. senators and representative to enlist their help in preserving the credit, and the final passed version does not eliminate the program.

Reporter Peregrine Frissell can be reached at 758-4438 or pfrissell@dailyinterlake.com.

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