Lake Norman Publications

Affordable housing deal is ‘government in action in a good way’

The Bungalows are an award-winning testament to Davidson’s affordable housing efforts, which are furthered by the planned community on the north side of town. /Lee Sullivan

DAVIDSON – The latest revision of a long-discussed mixed-use development – one including additional “units on the ground” for the community’s affordable-housing program – earned support from town commissioners while debate about growth management and utility extension authority delayed a decision on another residential project.

At the town board’s virtual Aug. 24 session – accompanied by praise for town staff and the developer for providing an amended plan several commissioners said was exactly what they “hoped for” – the affordable-housing aspect of Hopper Communities’ plans for Davidson Walk received unanimous board approval.

That endorsement came on the heels of a discussion about a water and sewer extension request for a Shearers Road project, which included an out-of-the-ordinary exchange between commissioners and eventual acceptance of Commissioner David Sitton’s request for a delay to obtain clarification about utility decision options.

‘Win for the town’

Different models for Davidson Walk evolved during the 28 months since Hopper Communities introduced the idea for a townhome development on 4.8 vacant acres in the northwest quadrant of the Armour Street/Beaty Street intersection, but recent debate focused on the affordable-housing aspect of the project.

Hopper is planning to build 46 townhomes and two quadplexes – for a total of 54 residential units – on the site along with 20,000 square feet of commercial space. According to the town’s affordable-housing policy, a project that size should include seven affordable units.

In late July, an updated plan – implementing a section of the town’s affordable-housing rules allowing a “one-to-one” ratio credit – proposed building three affordable units and providing a one-unit payment In lieu (PIL) of $40,840 to meet affordable-housing requirements.

Commissioners balked at that plan, seeking a two-week delay for more information. Two weeks later, at the board’s Aug. 10 meeting, a scheduled continuation of the Davidson Walk item was removed from the agenda.

At the most recent board meeting, Housing and Equity Director Eugene Bradley presented an updated version of the proposal including eight one-bedroom units designated as affordable. 

Four of the units will target individuals or two-person families with annual incomes between 80 and 100 percent of the region’s Area Median Income (AMI). The other four will target those in the 100-120 percent of AMI range. The anticipated price range for units designated as affordable will be $170,000 to $291,000. Bradley explained that units acquired through the program would also have deed restrictions to assure they remain (perhaps for up to 99 years) part of the town’s affordable-housing inventory.

The proposal also stipulates that if qualified buyers for the final four affordable units are not secured within six months, Hopper would have the option to submit PILs for those units and remove them from affordable-housing designation.

Bradley told commissioners that in terms of “trying to get units on the ground for working people” he viewed the plan as “a win for the town.”

Commissioners – who a month earlier expressed disappointment in Hopper’s three-unit proposal – agreed.

“I’m glad we pushed back,” Commissioner Matthew Fort said. “This is what I hoped for.”

“Also what I hoped for,” Commissioner Jim Fuller said, describing staff efforts to reach a compromise with the developer as “government in action in a good way.”

Fort added, referencing Hopper’s six-month affordable-housing caveat and public comments made at the meeting by town resident Donna Pollack, it would be important to have qualified families in place to acquire the units when they become available.

“I would consider it a failure for the town of Davidson if we’re not able to fill all eight,” he said.

Bradley responded he was confident qualified buyers could be secured, with Sitton suggesting a plan should also be in place for the town to purchase the units for affordable-housing use if eligible buyers are not positioned to complete acquisitions before the deadline.

Policy and perspective

Board discussion about a water and sewer extension for another much-discussed project – River Run Limited Partnership’s proposal for a 90-unit collection of single-family homes and townhouses referenced as River Run Phase 6 on 50 acres off Shearers Road in southeastern Davidson – was briefly overshadowed by an awkward exchange between commissioners.

A report from Town Manager Jamie Justice said the proposal met town guidelines and the town staff recommended approval of the utility extension. But Sitton, in several ways, expressed opposition.

Sitton cited concerns about the “swath of development” that could be created with River Run Phase 6 bordering Cabarrus County projects, the need for discussions about urban growth boundaries and the growth rate Davidson is experiencing, saying by extending water and sewer to the area, the town board was “guiding” development.

Commissioner Jane Campbell took exception to Sitton’s wording, saying the town was responding to request, not guiding the process, and the utility extension policy has been a tool for managing growth for years.

Later, after Sitton asked for clarification on the board’s extension policy authority – citing a statement by Fort  saying he saw no legally defensible reason for denying the request – Campbell questioned Sitton’s timing.

She said the issue has been discussed by the board several times – including deferred action at an earlier meeting to ensure nearby residents knew about the plan – and while she joined other commissioners in agreeing to defer action until the board’s Sept. 14 meeting, she challenged the need for the delay.

Sitton said decisions had been deferred before at commissioner requests, and then brought up an email he said Campbell had sent him related to attendance at meetings earlier in the year.

That triggered a brief back-and-forth between Sitton and Campbell, with other elected officials, Justice, new Assistant Town Manager Austin Nantz, Town Clerk Betsy Shores and Town Attorney Mary Ann Swan looking on through remote virtual connections while the exchange played out on the public broadcast.

Mayor Rusty Knox interrupted and advised Sitton and Campbell they could continue their discussion in “a realm outside a public meeting.”

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