Jake Christensen and his wife Susan Fitzsimmons, nearing the empty-nest stage of their lives, have been looking for a place to live as they begin the process of downsizing.

While both liked living in the Liberty Building in downtown about a decade ago, they missed the amenities provided by a traditional house such as a yard, a garage and a place to store things, Fitzsimmons said. 

A package of four parcels for sale in the 1600 block of High Street caught the couple’s attention, said Fitzsimmons, who for about 10 years was vice president and general counsel for Ruan Cos. She left Ruan and in January joined her family’s firm, Christensen Development, where she’s vice president and general counsel.

The four lots, which total about three-fourths of an acre, are on the southern edge of the Sherman Hill Neighborhood and immediately north of Crescent Chevrolet auto dealership’s former home on Ingersoll Avenue.

“We found this property and decided to broaden the view of what a downtown home could be like,” Fitzsimmons said. “These are not the types of homes you’d find in the downtown market. But they’ll have everything that is great about downtown living with the attraction of a charming neighborhood.

“You’ll get the urban neighborhood feeling and still be within walking distance of downtown.”

Christensen Development bought the lots in 2018 for $980,000, Polk County assessor records show. Two of the lots are vacant; one has a one-story concrete block building on it; the other, a house. Fitzsimmons said the structures will be torn down.

Plans call for six two-story single-family houses with full basements and three-car garages to be built on the property. High Street Homes, all with front and back yards and rooftop decks, will range in size from 2,722 square feet to 3,818 square feet. Homebuyers will be able to customize floor plans, Fitzsimmons said. The houses can have up to five bedrooms, depending on whether basements are finished, she said.

The houses will sell for about $700,000 and include 10-year property tax abatement.

KRM Development LLC of Urbandale will build the houses, Fitzsimmons said.

The City Council has approved the first two readings of an ordinance to change the zoning of the lots to neighborhood pedestrian commercial district from general retail and commercial. A final reading of the ordinance is expected to be approved at the Aug. 19 council meeting.

Construction is expected to begin in the spring.

Ryan Howell, president of the Sherman Hill Neighborhood Association, said the houses will complement housing offered in Sherman Hill, Des Moines’ oldest neighborhood, whose boundaries are Interstate Highway 235, Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway, Ingersoll Avenue and 15th Street.

Housing in the area includes single-family Victorian houses, apartment buildings and houses that have been converted to apartments, as well as single-family cottages and bungalows.

“The area [where the new houses are planned] has been an eyesore for years,” Howell said. “Until now, no one has been interested in that property.”

The neighborhood has gone through cycles of prosperity and decline. It’s now in an era of growth with plans for a $3.5 million expansion of Hoyt Sherman Place, a resurgent concert venue and cultural center, and a new brewery that is scheduled to open later this year at 1525 High St. 

In addition, residents in the area are waiting to see what the Krause family plans to do with the 1.75 acres that KG Store 543 LLC owns between 16th and 17th streets and High and Ingersoll. KG Store is connected with Kum & Go, which built its new corporate headquarters – the $151 million Krause Gateway Center – at 1459 Grand Ave. KG Store bought the property formerly occupied by Crescent Chevrolet in 2014 for $2 million. 

“Whenever what is planned by the Krause family is completed, I am confident it will provide a good transition between downtown and Sherman Hill,” Howell said. The Christensen housing development and development on the former auto dealership site will only increase the appeal of Sherman Hill, he said.

Fitzsimmons agreed.

“Exciting things are happening in the neighborhood,” she said. “It’s a gem.”

Fitzsimmons said she and Christensen haven’t yet decided whether they’ll live in one of the houses.

“We certainly designed the homes with that intention,” she said.