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Franklin approves Siler road apartments

Plans for a 60-unit apartment complex in Franklin are moving forward after Workforce Homestead received approval for a special permit from the Franklin Board of Aldermen.

60-unit apartment complex proposed in Franklin

fr franklinThe proposed development of a 60-unit apartment complex in Franklin may be another sign that the economy is recovering, slowly but surely. 

The new apartment complex could also be good news for those looking for affordable and high-quality housing.

Waynesville sweetens pot for affordable housing project

The Waynesville Board of Aldermen has waived more than $140,000 in water and sewer fees in the hopes that a Polk County developer will construct a low-income affordable housing development on Hyatt Creek Road.

Can commissioners turn their albatross into apartments for 20-somethings?

There’s only one feasible option for what to do with the abandon Haywood Department of Social Services building: turn it into apartments.

Low-income housing complex proposed in Franklin

A 60-unit affordable housing complex has been proposed in Franklin, but will depend on securing competitive state tax credits for low-income housing to come to fruition.

The project has been proposed by Fitch Development, a group out of Charlotte that specializes in low-income housing projects throughout the state. However, the financial feasibility of the projects hinge on state and federal tax credits. There is only a limited pool of tax credits available, and they can be quite competitive.

There were 26 low-income housing projects that applied for the tax credits from the mountain region in the last round awarded by the state — but there were only enough tax credits to go around for about six.

There is no guarantee the project proposed in Franklin will make the cut. The status of the application will be decided in August.

Pacing the way for the project should the tax credits come through, Franklin town aldermen recently approved a special use permit for the complex, but not before some future neighbors of the complex said they were worried about the potential impact.

“I’m real concerned about the situation,” Thaddass Green of Franklin told town leaders. Green was concerned about traffic, adding that it already “sounds like a racetrack” on Roller Mill Road where the complex would be built.

Green also said that he is worried about his personal safety if an affordable housing complex was nearby.

Patty and Vance Wall’s property is adjacent to the four-and-a-half acre tract where the housing would go in.

“You can see from our deck where this would be,” said Vance Wall.

He said a 60-unit complex as proposed would “really change life for us. It’s going to impact us majorly because this would no longer be just a residential, single-family dwelling area. It’s going to change the whole area.”

Like Green, Patty Wall expressed concerns about the two-lane road being able to handle more traffic.

“I just don’t know if this road can handle the amount of traffic this would bring,” she said, adding that Roller Mill Road is already dangerous enough as it is.

Hollis Fitch, president of the development company, said residents would be screened via credit and criminal background checks. Additionally, he said, internet-based cameras with views of the public areas in the housing complex would be installed. The program records up to 72 hours of camera footage, and Franklin police officers would be able to tap into the recordings through the Internet, he said.

“We’ve found that to be a very good deterrent and a very good way to stop any type of problems that might happen,” Fitch said.

Fitch also said that before building permits could be issued a required traffic study would be conducted.

“I’ve listened to the neighbors and it seems there might be a traffic issue on Roller Mill Road,” Fitch said in acknowledgement, adding that the company would take whatever safety measures were recommended by the state Department of Transportation. He said that could mean adding a three-way stop or a traffic light.

Roller Mill Road is an access into Westgate Terrace, a Franklin shopping center in the western part of town. Fitch said that one of the requirements for state funding was being within a half-mile of both a grocery store and drugstore, both of which are located in Westgate, hence the selection of this particular site.

The development would consist of three buildings with six entrances plus a community building and management office, a playground, “tot lot,” and sitting areas.

“That’s going to be a lot of good folks who are going to have a good place to live at a price they can afford, and good, clean, suitable housing close into town at a good location,” said Mayor Joe Collins, addressing the concerned neighbors. “Maybe there will be some mighty good folks who will move in there, and that might ease some of the sting.”

Alderman Sissy Pattillo emphasized that there is a current lack of affordable housing in Franklin for young professionals, though she also expressed concerns about future traffic impacts to Roller Mill Road.

“We’ve cut through there and you really take your life in your hands,” Pattillo said about Roller Mill Road.

Old Waynesville hospital could be converted to affordable housing

Haywood County officials foresee the historic hospital in Waynesville one day being transformed into affordable or senior housing.

“That would be my vision,” said Commissioner Bill Upton. “Something might show up that we haven’t thought of, but affordable housing is definitely needed.”

The mammoth brick building occupies an entire block, with 125 rooms and 50,000 square feet of outside space. The Department of Social Services is moving out next fall, and the county is seeking proposals on what to do with the building once vacated.

Developers have until late October to propose a new use for the hospital, but housing of some sort appears to be the commissioners’ preference.

“I felt that would be the highest and best use for that structure,” Commissioner Kevin Ensley said. According to Ensley, at least one developer has already looked at converting the building into affordable housing.

“I wouldn’t have any objection,” said Commissioner Skeeter Curtis. “We always need some housing.”

The Department of Social Services will relocate in fall 2011 to the site of the former Wal-Mart store in Clyde. Commissioners decided it’d be more cost-effective to buy and renovate the deserted superstore rather than fix up the crumbling hospital.

The old hospital was originally built in 1927 and expanded in the 1950s. County officials have said it would cost roughly $6.1 million to renovate it.

Commissioners have complained that the building will need a host of major renovations including a new roof, new windows and rewiring to accommodate the latest technology.

As the first county-owned hospital in North Carolina, however, the building may be eligible to be included in the National Registry of Historic Places, which comes with tax credits for renovations.

“I think the historic tax credits are what really makes it attractive for developers,” said Ensley.

 

A time of great need

Mountain Projects, a community action agency in Haywood and Jackson counties, may be on the ground assisting any developer that steps in.

“If they choose to do affordable housing, at that point, we’ll get involved,” said Patsy Dowling, director of Mountain Projects.

The agency can guide developers through the highly competitive process of receiving low-income housing tax credits from the North Carolina Housing Finance Agency.

Earlier this year, Mountain Projects helped launch Smokey Meadows, an affordable apartment complex in Canton. It filled up in record time.

Dowling is well-aware of the struggles that the working class faces in tracking down affordable housing, especially in recent times. She has seen the waiting list for affordable housing assistance backlogged for as long as three years.

“Our waiting list got so long we had to close it and stop taking applications,” said Dowling. “It’s back open, but the wait is tremendous …hundreds and hundreds of people in Haywood County are on the waiting list.”

Mountain Projects is helpless to help even those who walk in with their suitcases with nowhere to go.

While neighbors may be wary about living near low-income housing, Dowling said a comprehensive background check is done and clients must sign a strict 17-page lease.

“In these apartments, it’s not just anybody,” said Dowling.

Ensley agreed that bringing affordable housing to the area would only bring benefits.

“I don’t think that low-income or moderate-income housing is a negative at all,” said Ensley.

Another bonus is that the building would be put back on the tax rolls, Ensley and Dowling said. Affordable housing complexes not only pay taxes, but also create jobs.

If a developer takes on the task of renovating the old hospital, the central office for Haywood County Schools, which occupies one small section of the building, would likely be uprooted.

As commissioners await proposals, Curtis said the last thing he wants to see is the hospital destroyed.

“It’d be nice if we could save what we could of it,” Curtis said.

“A lot of our people were born there,” said Upton, who worked in the 1927 building while serving as school superintendent.

Affordable senior condos spark opposition among downtown Waynesville neighbors

Residents of a downtown Waynesville neighborhood are up in arms about a proposed three-story, 64-unit condo development that would provide affordable housing for senior citizens — and, they fear, also lower the property values of their homes.

The development, called Richland Hills, is under the wing of Asheville-based nonprofit Mountain Housing Opportunities, which has several developments in Buncombe County. Rent will range between $300 and $500. To be elligible, you have to be over 55. There is also an income cap.

“Low income is not going to fit here,” said neighbor Lela Eason, who is leading the opposition to the development. “This is a well-established neighborhood, and it will completely change the face of it.”

Mountain Housing Opportunities Project Director Cindy Weeks contends that the neighbors would like the development if they understood it better. The architect designing the building is the same one who worked on the Laurels of Junaluska, another senior development in the county, and the building will use green features.

At this point, there’s probably little Eason and her neighbors can do to halt the project, said Town Zoning Administrator Byron Hickox. The project has already been approved unanimously by the town’s planning board and community appearance commission. It meets all the required building, architectural and landscaping guidelines.

The development is located in the East Waynesville Neighborhood District, where high density development is allowed, said Hickox. Town zoning allows for 16 units per acre in that area, and though Richmond Hills will be three stories tall, it still falls just under the maximum allowed height of 35 feet.

None of that has deterred Eason and her neighbors from waging a protest against the development. Eason faults the town for not informing her community of the development sooner. She says her sister-in-law was the only person to get a letter notifying of the proposed project, and that only came last week.

“It’s kind of sneaky that the whole community doesn’t know about it,” Eason said. “There are people who can see it from their properties who are furious, and they have no clue it’s about to take their property values down.”

 

A poor fit?

A sheet of paper being passed around the East Waynesville district accuses the proposed Richmond Hills development of catering to low income individuals at poverty level. The paper states that drugs are sold out of similar communities in Asheville, and that the safety of the neighborhood may very well be jeopardized should this development be built.

The “low-income” stigma is one Mountain Housing Opportunities has battled many times in its 20-year history. The idea that the nonprofit builds housing projects is incorrect, says Project Director Cindy Weeks.

“People in their heads have some idea about public housing, but that’s not us,” Weeks said. “Nothing about this will be remotely related to public housing. We’re very selective about tenants, and we get background checks and even credit checks.”

Weeks is used to dealing with skeptics. Her answer? She tells them to check out the non-profit’s other developments.

“One-hundred percent of the time, they’ll come back and say it’s beautiful,” Weeks says. Contrary to the reported drugs sold in these complexes, “we’ve never had problems with neighbors; no complaints; no police problems,” she says. “Here in Asheville, it’s gotten to the point where we don’t have much concern over what we’ve built.”

But Mountain Housing Opportunities is dealing with unfamiliar territory in Waynesville. The Richmond Hills project is the group’s first outside Buncombe County. The town was picked based on the results of a market study the nonprofit conducted, which identified Waynesville and Haywood County as having a need for senior apartment homes.

“There’s a lot of seniors in the western part of the state that might be living in substandard housing, not close to medical services or shopping,” Weeks said. “This would be an alternative for them.”

Weeks said a downtown Waynesville location seemed ideal for its accessibility, among other reasons.

“What we liked about the location was that it was well-located to shopping and services in the downtown,” she said. “The site is relatively flat and easy to develop, and we can get access to utilities. Plus, it’s just a nice neighborhood.”

Maybe a little too nice for such a development, says Eason. A one-story, high-end apartment complex would be a better fit, she says — the Richmond Hills complex might be better suited to other areas of the county.

Downtown Waynesville Association Director Buffy Messer doesn’t agree. She says the development will be a good fit downtown.

“I think its actually a very good addition to the area,” Messer says. “We are encouraging more residential in the downtown area. The goal is to expand both shopping and residential.”

Messer says she thinks fear is the driving factor of the opposition to Richmond Hills.

“In many other cities with what is considered low-rent housing, there have been some serious situations with drugs, alcohol and domestic problems,” Messer says. “But we already have some affordable housing throughout the town of Waynesville that probably people don’t even know about.”

Messer says the development is a good way to get seniors living downtown.

“I think so many of our seniors are having to move outside the town and county because we don’t have affordable options,” she says.

With an income cap to qualify, however, it is unclear whether residents will be big patrons of downtown shops. Similar developments by the same entity in Asheville have an income cap of $22,000.

 

Too late?

Hickox says the residents of the East Waynesville district should have raised their protests earlier.

“The bottom line is that now is not the time to make the argument of if it’s a good fit for the community,” Hickox said. That should have been done more than six years ago, when the zoning guildelines were established that allowed for high density development in the district.

“If you wait until they’ve already proposed the project, you’re too late; you’re too far behind,” said Hickox. “If it meets the standards, the town doesn’t have the legal ability to deny it.”

The Richmond Hills project still has to go before the town Board of Adjustment — the final step before it’s approved. That meeting isn’t really for public comments, Hickox said. Those could have been given at the planning board and community appearance commission meetings. Someone making a case before the Board of Adjustment needs to present hard evidence of why the project shouldn’t be allowed. An example would be a history of traffic patterns in the area and evidence of why the project would clog traffic.

The Board of Adjustment meets on Tuesday (April 7), just after The Smoky Mountain News has gone to press. If Richmond Hills is OK’d — and there’s no indication it won’t — Mountain Housing Opportunities will start getting financing in place.

Construction of Richmond Hills is slated to begin within six to eight months — but not without a fight, vows Eason.

“We have a community crying out saying ‘no,’” she says.

Affordable housing on the plateau

Each weekend, Carol Austin figures out what meals her family is going to eat during the upcoming workweek. She shops for groceries and fills her vehicle’s gasoline tank before Monday morning.

Service providers: As housing costs escalate, regional hospitality businesses look for ways to cushion the blow for the working class

When the well heeled are in need of a pampered retreat in Western North Carolina, they often look toward the Old Edwards Inn and Spa in Highlands.

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