FOREST CITY — A local builder is introducing a new residential concept near downtown Forest City, which should be mutually beneficial for the homeowners, neighbors and nearby merchants.

About a year ago Jimmy Hooper secured the town’s approval for his Cottages at Twelve Oaks, a pocket community of 11 new homes in a depressed area of town of aging mill houses. He had hoped to have already built three of the homes, but the COVID-19 pandemic slowed the progress. The first home is now complete and under contract with a closing slated for mid October. He’s now working on the second home amid plans to finish the neighborhood within the next two years.

“We thought we’d be further along until COVID hit,” Jimmy said. “If COVID hadn’t hit, we’d have three houses complete.”

Jimmy and wife Sonja got the idea for a pocket community after visiting other towns where they had already been introduced. While those houses were of different designs and sizes, part of the objective is for the new developments to turn the tide on blighted neighborhoods.

“This is such a great concept and idea,” Sonja said.

The Hoopers’ pocket community starts at Twelve Oaks, adjacent to the southside of the Thermal Belt Rail Trail (site of the house just completed) and turns east on Reid Street. Many of the neighboring homes are vintage mill houses, smaller frame units once home to those who worked in the textile mills that peppered the area.

“When the Hoopers first talked to me about this project I was excited, but to be honest wasn’t 100% sure how this would work for them or the town,” said Forest City Mayor Steve Holland. “After meeting with Jimmy and Sonja several times and seeing their plans, I could see this being a great addition to our community. They had definitely done their homework.”

The Hoopers first built similar cottage houses in other parts of town, three on Florida Avenue and two on Webb Drive. Those were well received and quickly sold, proving the house designs were indeed popular.

“I’m building one right now that’s a spittin’ image to the one on Twelve Oaks,” Jimmy said about building a cottage home at someone’s request on a different lot.

Those successes also hinted a pocket community of cottages could be successful here.

While tightly nestled on the block, the cottage homes are built to provide spacious open areas inside with a number of high-end amenities. For example, the living rooms blends into the dining room next to a kitchen separated by a granite top island. In addition to granite top counters, the cabinetry is made of wood. The cottages have hardwood floors throughout, fireplaces, attached 1-car garages, and front and back porches. Floor plans call for two bedrooms and two baths. Some are designed for three bedrooms.

They’re around 1,300 square feet and bright from plenty of windows for natural sunlight. The 9-foot high ceilings add to the cottages’ spacious design.

As a pocket community, there’s a homeowners association that’s responsible for the landscaping and the common grounds integrated into the development. It also ensures neighborhood conformity, such as making sure lawns are well maintained. The homes and common areas are connected by sidewalks.

One of the community’s greatest assets is its proximity to downtown.

“Everything Forest City has to offer, we’re building around it,” Sonja said.

Town leaders are equally as appreciative for having residents near businesses.

“You are conveniently located near downtown and the trail,” Holland said. “This kind of development is what a lot of people are looking for in today’s society. I think you will see more homes like this being built.”

Another benefit of building the cottages in this area of town has been the impact on the neighbors. Surrounding property owners have been motivated to make improvements.

“When we started doing this pocket community, we went to other property owners and asked them to fix up their homes,” Jimmy said.

Some have responded by making renovations.

“All of the neighbors have been excited,” Sonja added.

Price points are expected to be under $200,000, although the pandemic has forced the cost of materials to as much as double presently. A spree of hurricanes didn’t help matters either.

The Hoopers are optimistic there will be a quick economic recovery.

“When the prices do come down, they come down quickly,” Jimmy said of the expense on materials.

Interest rates remain friendly for buyers and Jimmy doesn’t predict rates to increase anytime soon.

As to who chooses to live in a pocket community, it varies. The cottages are geared toward those looking to minimize either by downsizing, choice or those who simply prefer less maintenance.

For this to be a success, it has to be a mix of people,” Jimmy said.

Forest City has been experiencing builders planning smaller communities throughout town.

“We went for years not having any new homes being built in the town and the last few years that has changed,” Holland said. “I’m so thankful that people want to build in our town and raise their families. After the pandemic is over, I believe we will see a growth in our economy and community.”

An Open House is planned at the Cottages at Twelve Oaks 11 a.m. — 6 p.m. Friday, Oct. 2.