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Planning Board votes no on affordable housing proposal

The Housing Assistance Corp. is seeking rezoning to allow a 64-unit affordable housing development on Pisgah Drive off U.S. 64 West. The Housing Assistance Corp. is seeking rezoning to allow a 64-unit affordable housing development on Pisgah Drive off U.S. 64 West.

The Housing Assistance Corp. plans to pursue approval of a 64-unit apartment development despite a negative recommendation on rezoning from the Henderson County Planning Board.


The Planning Board dealt a setback to the $7.6 million project when it voted unanimously on Thursday to recommend denial of HAC's request to rezone 5.6 acres on Pisgah Drive. HAC is seeking local development approval and state and federal grant money for what it calls the Rosebay Apartments.
"The board is in agreement and we do plan on pursuing this particular project and rezoning at the commissioners meeting," Noelle McKay, executive director of the HAC, said after her board met on Monday. "It seemed what the Planning Board had concerns about was the appropriateness of the property and we want to identify why this property is very appropriate and what the community needs for affordable housing are in this area."
The apartment complex would be built on the south side of Pisgah Drive between LaSalle Lane and Howell Lane near the Sava (formerly Brian) Senior Care Center and behind Shaws Creek Baptist Church.
"It's a 64-unit apartment development targeted for workforce housing," Hugh Lipham, the director of residential development for the HAC, said before the meeting last week. "It will serve individuals or families making 50 percent or less of the area median income in one-, two-, or three-bedroom units."
Rents range on a sliding scale based on the tenants' income — $400 to $590 for a one-bedroom, $476 to $700 for a two-bedroom and $550 to $825 for a three-bedroom unit.
The agency must have the appropriate zoning in place before it can apply for a grant through the Home program of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The Asheville Regional Housing Consortium granted the Hendersonville agency $396,000 for the project.
"There's definitely a need" for affordable housing, Lipham said. "A marketing study commissioned specifically for this development found an overall need of about 520 units of this type of housing. We have several other developments and the vacancy rates tend to be as close as you can get to zero. The other developments are rented up very well and they have a waiting list, so we see a great need for this."
The Rosebay development would be the first apartment development for working families HAC has built since 2006, when it opened Highland View apartments in the King Creek subdivision off Spartanburg Highway.
"There's certainly a great deal of demand," he said. "This will serve people who help run our community."
The Pisgah Drive site is an ideal site, McKay said, because it is close to a supermarket and other retail stores and to jobs.
"It's a very competitive process and it's for development projects throughout the stage of North Carolina and one of the things they rate applications very highly on is your site score," she said. "One of the requirements is it has to be within a mile of grocery stories, gas stations and doctors offices and those type of things. In a rural community it becomes more difficult to find that because of the affordability, because of the location and because of the availability of infrastructure such as sewer to make it happen."


Uphill battle

After Thursday's vote, however, the agency faces an uphill battle to reverse a unanimous no vote from the Planning Board.
HAC, which has optioned the land contingent on development approvals, is seeking a rezoning from R-2 residential zoning (up to two units per acre) to office and institutional conditional use, which allows up to 16 units per acre. A site plan prepared for the development showed a 20-foot buffer of trees around the perimeter, just over a half acre of common area and about an acre and a quarter of open space.
Six residents of Pisgah Drive and the surrounding area spoke out against the zoning change.
Robert Jernigan said he owns two houses in the area and his daughter owns a third.
"When I bought here, it was restricted to the amount of homes, and first thing I was told was you couldn't have apartments," he said. "Sixty-four units are not conducive to that neighborhood. It's not a thing that need there."
Tim Howell, who owns property across the road from the proposed apartments, said his family has lived there since 1967. "I just really feel this would be an overcrowding issue and I strongly request that you decline to approve this rezoning," he said.
Troy Drake added: "We're being encroached by this new zoning. It seems like it's spot zoning. It's not contiguous with similar zoning so that's why I disagree with it."
Evan Bracken, who lives in a unit built by HAC and serves on the agency's Board of Directors, urged the Planning Board to endorse the rezoning.
"I wouldn't call the land cheap but it is more affordable than other things around," he said. "One thing I want to dismiss, it doesn't have derelict tenants. I had to go through a background to check financials and criminal background, then you have to sign a lease which requires you to pay rent every month on time, or you're subject to eviction. The places that HAC has are well maintained. They have a management company that takes care of all the maintenance and does good landscaping. There's kind of a general drift that there's a demand for affordable housing and this is a way of fulfilling that."
HAC tenants are "normal people," he added. "They're not derelict or drug dealers or anything like that. They're just like the rest of us trying to make a living."
County Commissioner Grady Hawkins, who serves as the liaison to the Planning Board, said zoning for high density does not fit the area.
"We had the Etowah-Horse Shoe area plan and it did not see any reason to rezone the area that we're considering," he said. "We've got a list of conditions that go with it to try to make this like a square peg fit in a round hole."
The acreage is outside a designated "community service node," he said. The county's comprehensive plan spells out that office and institutional zoning should allow for residential development that is "compatible with adjacent development and the surrounding community and will minimize congestion and sprawl," he said, quoting the county plan. "So it really doesn't fit the definition to rezone it office and institutional. I really would have a problem seeing how this zoning would fit in that area."
Planning Board member Marilyn Gordon agreed.
"Right now it's very much a single-family rural type area," she said. "So it's very hard to envision this density of housing on that piece of land."

Affordable housing a priority

Despite the negative recommendation, McKay said she hopes to persuade the Board of Commissioners to approve the land-use change.
The Asheville Regional Housing Consortium have the Rosebay project "the lion's share of the funding (this year) because it was a good project and also because Henderson County has a need for this housing," she said. "HAC hasn't built a tax credit development for families since 2006."
A communitywide meeting earlier this month, she noted, focused on affordable housing. Both the Children and Family Resource Center and the United Way have identified lower-cost housing for working families as a major need.
"For a family of four you can make up to $33,000 and live in the apartments," McKay said. "These are the people you see when you go to the Ingles and it's the same deli clerk you've always known, it's your daycare provider, it's your bank teller. It's those faces that are oftentimes living in our apartments."
One resident said during the Planning Board that migrant workers should live closer to where the crops are grown. McKay said he had misunderstood who the apartments would serve. The HAC hasn't built any seasonal farmworker housing in more than 20 years.
"There's a credit check and a criminal background check," she said. "When people buy a house they don't have a criminal background check. In some ways the requirements are more stringent than when someone is building a home next door to you."