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Housing agency carries on battle for 'workforce' apartments

The Henderson County Board of Commissioners will hold a hearing on a proposed rezoning for a 64-unit affordable housing project on May 12. The Henderson County Board of Commissioners will hold a hearing on a proposed rezoning for a 64-unit affordable housing project on May 12.

Advocates of affordable housing believed they had found an ideal site and chosen a well-designed attractive development that would provide apartments for 64 families.

But after months of work, reams of paperwork and several positive reviews, the Hendersonville-based Housing Assistance Corp. faces a bottom of the ninth situation with one big strike against them.
HAC leaders say they were stunned when the Henderson County Planning Board unanimously recommended that the Board of Commissioners turn down a rezoning the HAC must have to move forward with the $7.6 million project.
"If we do not get rezoned we will not be able to proceed to the full application," said Noelle McKay, the agency's executive director. "We will be stopped in our tracks."
Board members say they have rallied since the Planning Board vote on March 20. They're trying to address concerns, answer questions and explain the need.
The Pisgah Drive site "is close to a lot of services that folks need — restaurants, grocery stores, public transportation — Apple Country pulls right in there at the Ingles," said Jim Robertson, a longtime board member and past president of the housing agency board. "Our hope is that they'll see the logic and understand that this decision they're making, that they'll make the decision on the majority of the people who need their help, not just three or four homeowners that are afraid of the unknown. There's been issues about traffic and issues raised about the density but the real issue is I think there's a lot of fear about the people that live in affordable homes."
JimRobertson copyJim Robertson"We had the same thing when we did Regal Oaks. A lot of the folks in the neighborhood just didn't know what we were about, didn't understand who was going to be living there, and if you talk to those same people today they're the ones that are going over and visiting with the folks that are in those apartments, and sitting in the rocking chairs on the front porch."
After the Planning Board voted no, board member Marilyn Gordon wrote to HAC's director of residential development, Hugh Lipham, and said she had changed her mind.
"Quite frankly, I did not sleep very well for several nights after our vote," she wrote. "I regretted my vote against the rezoning and finally decided that I need to speak up about my change of opinion."
There are three ways to get into the property, she noted, including the stoplight at the east end of Pisgah Drive at Laurel Park Village. "DOT has indicated that the road will be resurfaced after the project is completed," she added. Pisgah Drive is "not strictly residential at all," but contains mixed uses and is in transition. "One of the property owners in the area has already had his home rezoned for office and institutional use in anticipation of sale in the future. While some of the current property owners want to preserve the residential zoning, they may come to realize that their best buyers and best prices will be achieved by rezoning when the time comes to sell."


Perfect score in state review

The Rosebay Apartments would be on the south side of Pisgah Drive, a loop road that passes undeveloped woods before it suddenly gets thicker with development. Just east of the proposed apartment complex are the Sava (formerly Bryant) Senior Care facility, a Park Ridge Health clinic and the Laurel Park Place condominiums. The property is less than a quarter-mile from Laurel Park Village.
One reason the site has scored high with regional and state housing agencies is its proximity to retail, medical facilities and a supermarket. A site farther out of town probably would not be competitive, Mckay said.
The project received a $425,000 grant from the Asheville Housing Consortium.
"We were the ones that received the largest portion because the consortium recognized the value of this particular project and recognized the need in this community," McKay said. "If we don't get rezoned we will lose that money in this county and it will go to one of the projects in Buncombe County."
If the board kills the Rosebay rezoning, she said, it's unlikely that the agency could quickly pivot to another parcel of land, negotiate a purchase and complete the process.
"These take years to flesh out and completely develop," she said.
If HAC gets the rezoning during the May 12 Board of Commissioners meeting, it would face a deadline the following Friday, May 12. Awards are announced in August and the agency could break ground in about a year from now. The building then could be ready for families in the summer of 2016, McKay said.

Neighbors say site is unsuitable

Neighbors who own property near the proposed Rosebay site told the Planning Board that they feared an apartment complex would bring higher traffic and cause their property values to fall. Surrounded by vacant land and single family homes, the location is not suitable for a development of almost 12 units per acre, more than five times the current zoning of two units per acre, they said.
HAC board members said their developments are well-received once people see them. They say they've enhanced neighborhoods.
The current HAC president, Brett Shaffer, said he and other board members are trying to talk to anyone who has expressed opposition or fear.
"We're reaching out to the neighbors," he said. "We've met with the Laurel Park Council, tried to alleviate their concerns. We're reaching out to some of the business owners. For the most part, from the business owners, the feedback I'm getting, they're not opposed to it. They're more in favor of the development.
"We are reaching out to county commissioners and trying to educate them ahead of the board meeting about what we do," Shaffer said during a dedication of Regal Oaks, HAC's apartment building for elderly people. "I don't think it's well known in the community, the type of housing we put together. A lot of people hear affordable housing and they immediately think the slums, rundown. They see this and they're like, 'Wow.' And the few people that we've met with and actually brought to some of the properties, they're very impressed."
County commissioners were asked during a candidate forum on April 16 how they would vote on the rezoning case. Although they said they had heard about the request, they did not commit to vote for or against the land-use change.
Robertson met with Commissioner Larry Young and drove him to the Pisgah Drive property.
"The communities are well-maintained, they're managed properly, there's an office that staffed on weekdays in regular business hours," he said. "The residents not only have to go through credit screening but they have to go through a criminal check before they can live in the apartments. It's going to serve the workforce. It's going to serve a CNA that works in the local care facility, it's going to serve a daycare teacher, it's going to serve a cashier at Wal-Mart or Sam's Club that might have a child.
"How it affects children with affordable housing is if you're spending 50, 60, 70 percent of your income on housing you're constantly trying to lower your rent. So you're constantly chasing a lower rent ... You're uprooting the children. You're moving them from school to school to school chasing that lower rent. This would provide stability — clean, safe, affordable housing that's only taking 30-35 percent of your income and provide that stability. ...
"If you look at the land and the services that are there, it's an appropriate use of that property," he said.