Unique proposal: Property owner wants to build home made from shipping containers in Fishers

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A unique home proposed in the Village Center neighborhood is unlike any other in the City of Fishers. But the path to approval has been rocky.

A proposal for a shipping container home, a house made of upcycled materials that were once used to transport cargo, was first presented to the Nickel Plate Review Committee July 23 on behalf of the builder by Ross Hilleary, the city’s assistant director of planning and zoning. The proposal was tabled after the committee recommended less steel be used in the construction. The proposal was brought up again at the Aug. 24 meeting, but the project was once again tabled for review despite the petitioner – Joe Nixon, owner of Joe Nixon Properties – making the changes the committee recommended.

Nixon has since worked with the city planning and zoning staff and hopes the container home will be approved at the next Nickel Plate Review Committee meeting on Sept. 28.

If approved, Nixon said he plans to turn the container home into an Airbnb to rent out to visitors.

A map showing the location of home on Lantern Rd. (Source: Hamilton County GIS)

Custom Container Builders, the firm Nixon hired to build the container home, requested approval of site design, architecture and waivers for a 2,260-square-foot home to be built at 11405 Lantern Rd. using repurposed shipping containers. One of the area’s first shipping container homes was built in a northern Indianapolis neighborhood. The $5 million project utilized 32 shipping containers to construct a three-story, multi-unit home.

However, when first brought to the Nickel Plate Review Committee, committee members raised concerns about the amount of steel proposed and requested more wood siding be added. Originally, the planning and zoning staff recommended that the amount of steel used in the home be reduced from 72 percent to 40 percent.

After the July 23 meeting, Nixon met with the City of Fishers planning and zoning staff to make changes to his proposed rendering of the building. He added more wood siding to the rendering and reduced the amount of steel on the outside and addressed other issues the committee recommended, but the request was denied again at the Aug. 24 meeting, where the city had more aesthetic concerns and questioned if it fit the vision for Village Center and the Nickel Plate District.

Committee member Selina Stoller, who also serves on the Fishers City Council, said she brought the container home idea to the Fishers City Council, which raised its own concerns of how it would fit into the larger vision of the city.

“This is not the vision we have for Village Center. Metal is basically used as an accent and I do agree with staff that a waiver like this would be unprecedented in this area, and I don’t think it’s a good avenue for this committee to go down and to make a waiver of such a magnitude given such materials,” Stoller said during the Aug. 24 meeting.

Stoller recommended to Nixon that he continue to work with staff and bring the proposal back to the committee. She also requested a meeting with City Councilor Pete Peterson and the builder to discuss what the vision of Village Center is.

Later, when reached by Current, Stoller said she believed the project would fit in with the character of the Village Center with the other unique housing in the neighborhood.

Megan Vukusich, director of planning and zoning, agreed.

Overall, the use and form of the structure (to) align with the vision for the Village Center,” Vukusich said. “We are working with the petitioner to ensure the building materials and overall architecture align with the Nickel Plate Code and character of the area. The petitioner is expected to submit revisions in the coming week(s) that will then be placed on the next Nickel Plate Review Committee meeting agenda.”

Committee member Rich Block asked about the longevity of the shipping container home, saying that the steel material usually only has a 25-year lifespan. Mike Lewis, petitioner from Custom Container Builders, said that while typical shipping containers on the ocean do have a limited lifespan, the home would not have such issues.

Nixon said he saw similar homes by Custom Container Builders in a local newspaper article a year ago and immediately got the idea to bring the unique shipping container home to Fishers.

Nixon said he believes the home, which sits on a property only 29-by-82 feet, or 1/18th of an acre, would be a good use of the space, which he said could not accommodate a traditional home because of the compact size and power lines that run through the property. His solution with the container home is to make the house narrower as it goes up, so it will be three shipping containers wide across at the base and two on the top two floors.

Nixon noted that while the price of building the house hasn’t been determined, it could end up costing more than a traditional home of similar size.

“I could plop an ordinary 2,000-square-foot house with fiber cement siding on that lot for a lot less money than I’m putting into the proposed project. It wouldn’t generate much interest and wouldn’t add much to the area, but it would quickly get approved architecturally,” Nixon said. “Instead, I’m trying to go above and beyond and build something that’s really stunning, unique and vibrant.”

Nixon said he believes the house fits within the style of Village Center and shares commonalities with other homes in the area, the only difference being the material it would be made out of.

“I think that it’s kind of the ideal project. It is something that shares features with other (homes in the neighborhood) but it’s also unique in its own way,” Nixon said.

Nixon said he is hopeful that the project gets approved at the next meeting, which is set for 5 p.m. Sept. 28.

Rendering of the proposed shipping container home. (Photo provided by Joe Nixon)

Community opinion

Some members of the Fishers community have expressed varying opinions on the container homes online. Some said they do not think the home will last very long not withstand Indiana’s climate.

In addition, Henok Cronin, a Fishers resident, expressed concerns about toxins in shipping containers impacting the environment.

“Another important thing to consider is the carbon footprint of the container home,” Cronin said. “Steel construction is not as environmentally friendly as wood.”

Other residents, however, said support the idea the unique home and applaud the fact it would be constructed of upcycled materials.

Carly Vanarsdall, a Fishers resident, said that shipping containers are more common in cities on the West Coast and would be a good addition to Fishers.

“I think it’s cool and a great way to reuse material,” Vanarsdall said. “(The house) is its own style for sure, but it’s recycling and being conscious of our Earth footprint.”

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