Cost forces developers to nix Germantown container homes project

Container homes have started to gain popularity in the U.S. | Renderings by Foxworth Architecture

Container homes have started to gain popularity in the U.S. | Renderings by Foxworth Architecture

A set of homes made out of shipping containers was supposed to put Louisville in the league of cities like Austin, Texas, which have embraced the unique housing as part of the tiny house trend.

However, the wife and husband team, Bella Portaro Kueber and Rick Kueber, have called off plans to build six to eight container houses in the trendy Germantown neighborhood. The houses would have been about 640 square feet, each with a rooftop patio, situated on four parcels at the corner of Ash and Shelby streets, across from Germantown Mill Lofts.

Portaro Kueber told Insider Louisville that they couldn’t make the numbers work.

“It costs more than a majority of the homes over there to build just one,” she said. “I don’t think that neighborhood would have supported something that would cost $250,000 just to move it and it being one bedroom.”

Renting the container homes wouldn’t have worked, either, because of pricing constraints. The project was about bringing something innovative and modern to Louisville, but “you still have to be able to justify the spending,” Portaro Kueber said.

While cost was a major factor, it wasn’t the only one. The container houses would have been the first of their kind in Louisville, meaning the Kuebers had to wait and to wade through more red tape as the city figured out what standards to set for the project. In one meeting with city officials, they also were told that they’d need to update the sewer lines to accommodate the development.

“The delays kept adding up, and then the timing and the cost,” Portaro Kueber said.

Kueber announced the couple’s decision on his Facebook page Tuesday.

“We came to the conclusion that this would be the best option for the neighborhood,” he wrote. “We do not want to slow down progression any longer so we are hopeful to list the property and sell it quickly so another developer can pick-up the ball and bring our project or something different to the area instead of keeping the lots empty.”

The couple worked with real estate company Gant Hill & Associates to buy the properties at 800 Ash St. and is now listing the property for sale with the company. The 13,068-square-foot lot is listed for $329,000.

The Kuebers aren’t the only ones to run into cost problems. Although shipping container homes are touted as cheaper living options — and in some places that is true — other developers in the United States have found them too costly and abandoned ship.

MarketWatch published an article Wednesday on shipping container living. A project in Little Rock, Ark., was dropped because “the local costs of utilizing metallurgists and welders to join the containers and fabricate doors and windows and the unfamiliarity of the construction design compared with conventional carpentry costs ($115 a square foot) made it a tough sell to the developer.”

Portaro Kueber said she and her husband were heartbroken about calling off the project.

“I sat there and I cried, and it was the stupidest thing,” she said. But “it was our first project as a married couple.”

The couple could revisit the container home project in the future.

“Absolutely, 100 percent, we would love to,” she said, adding that she hopes another developer can find a way to make it work. “I am hoping this isn’t just going to be something that goes away.”

Portaro Kueber encouraged anyone thinking about developing a container home project to reach out. They could help them make connections. The couple was working with Louisville-based Foxworth Architecture to design the houses and locally owned Core Design, which constructs and customizes shipping containers. Core Design did work for ReSurfaced at Liberty and Shelby streets.

“It would be a shame to not share everything we know,” she said.