Be There When Lightning Strikes

Politics

Set your text size: A A A

LIGHTNING EDITORIAL: Mills River should face housing issue

The Mills River Town Board last week accepted a recommendation on affordable housing like it was a hot potato.

Nineteen months in the making, the recommended changes seek to address a growing problem in Mills River. As the community attracts more industrial and professional jobs, new workers are finding a distinct lack of affordable homes, whether that's an apartment to rent or a condo or small home to buy.
Through no fault of the Town Board, multifamily housing in Mills River faces several hurdles. Watershed restrictions that protect the Mills River drinking water supply cover about two-thirds of the 22½-square-mile town. Thousands more acres are in production in the community's thriving farms. The town's zoning for single-family houses requires lot sizes od three-quarters of an acre. The maximum density for multifamily housing is four units to an acre — with the additional requirements that the development is on at least an acre and a half with 200 feet of road frontage.
After exhaustive study, public input and months of discussion, the Planning Board recommended new multi-family zoning that would allow up to 10 units an acre. The proposal seemed to land on the council's table with an ominous thud.
"I hope the Planning Board doesn't think we're going to act in a hurry," Councilman Wayne Carland said. "I appreciate the work but it's difficult for me to endorse these changes."
"This would be one of the biggest decisions council makes for a while," Councilman Billy Johnston added.
There's no mistaking that the change from four units an acre to 10 is radical by Mills River standards. As Carland pointed out, one reason the community incorporated to start with was to preserve the open space and avoid the tightly packed cookie-cutter developments that have popped up on its borders.
But Mills River is changing — in most ways for the better — and affordable "workforce" housing is a real and immediate need. During public input meetings, the Planning Board heard from real estate agents and builders that 10 units an acre is the minimum needed to make an affordable housing development feasible; one broker said 12 to 15 would be better.
The Mills River Town Board needs to recover from the vapors and face this issue. It should invite more public input, consider what parts of the town would best accommodate higher-density housing and then go forward. Parts of the N.C. 280 corridor that have access to water and sewerage is a good place to start. We're not talking high-rise apartments here. Zero-lot line developments, condos and patio homes could all find a ready market.
Founding members Carland and Roger Snyder and the rest of the current board have made wise decisions in managing the town's growth up to now. Those same leaders can ensure that Mills River's future is even brighter by confronting the affordable housing question and endorsing smart managed growth that serves both new residents and new corporate citizens.