CONNELL -- A dirt lot with only stakes and string marking the outline of a foundation will turn into a new home within the next three months.
It's one of several being built in a community called Oasis Village Connell this year.
Connell city officials said the new homes at Oasis Village Connell are part of overdue growth expected earlier once the expanded Coyote Ridge Corrections Center opened in early 2009.
That expansion added a 2,048-bed medium security section to an existing 600 minimum security beds. And officials expected to see residential and commercial development as the prison added more jobs to the town of 2,700.
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But the state Department of Corrections added employees and inmates to the prison slower than initially planned.
This week, its inmate population was 2,403.
"For a time we were poised to grow, and now we are growing," said Jed Crowther, city planning/building coordinator.
He said the town has seen steady growth since the expanded prison opened, but not the spike officials expected.
It wasn't until January 2010 that Steve Thatcher, Oasis neighborhood manager, said he noticed the growth had begun.
That's about when the state started closing older prisons and moving inmates to Coyote Ridge to save money.
Now, Thatcher said some Coyote Ridge employees seem more interested in buying a home instead of commuting or living in the RV park.
They seem to be among those the developer is trying to attract, with bright yellow signs along Clark Street at the front of the subdivision that ask "Why drive?" and "Move to Connell."
Just this month, Thatcher said the subdivision reached the one-third-full mark, with a third of the 65 possible homes built and sold.
Varsity Development, which owns the subdivision and is building the homes as Oasis Custom Homes, went from selling a home every two months to one every month, he said.
Four currently are under construction.
The Oasis neighborhood homes range from 1,235 to 3,600 square feet, and cost from $137,000 to more than $300,000.
Village at Connell has room to expand, if there is a demand, Thatcher said. Varsity Development owns enough property adjacent to the current subdivision for two more phases, which together could be up to 100 more new homes.
The town has added 54 new homes in the past five years. Compared with growth such as Pasco's, that may seem small. But Crowther said it's significant because prior to 2006, the city had just a bit more than 800 homes.
About $12 million has been invested in the community in residential and commercial developments in the past five years, not including the prison and the new elementary school, he said.
Last year, Connell issued 66 building permits, with 42 of them for residential development, according to city documents.
Seven building permits for new homes already have been issued this year, Crowther said, and two new subdivisions have been platted in the last year, the first step for a housing development.
Tyler Creek, platted a year ago, has 135 lots, while Quail Meadows, platted a month ago, has 70 lots.
Although no permits have been issued for commercial projects, Crowther said he's been fielding more calls with people expressing interest in that sort of development.
But some aren't as sure that Connell is poised for growth.
Hank Hassan, owner of West Richland-based Brix, said he thinks that sort of growth won't happen unless the city can find a way to keep employees at Coyote Ridge in Connell rather than commuting.
"It's a small town," he said.
There isn't much for families, and some businesses are closed during different times of the year, Hassan said.
He is building his company's seventh home in Connell, with an eighth expected to start this week.
He said the homes are three-bedroom, two-bath and generally priced from $128,000 to $135,000. They are the "working man's home," he said.
Hassan said he may build up to eight homes this year, depending on demand.
And he thinks higher gas prices could help fuel that, he said.