City bails out of McCormick Heights purchase

The city of Asheville has backed out of its plans to buy the McCormick Heights housing project, but will continue to assist and fund the relocation of tenants there.

In December, City Council voted to approve the $2.5 million purchase of the ailing property from a subsidiary of Progress Energy and build new mixed-income housing there and on adjacent city-owned land. In January, council committed $120,000 in Community Development Block Grant funds to relocate the 41 households that would be evicted by the purchase.

But while conducting title checks and background research on the purchase, city staff found that the property came with a series of limitations that would carry over to the next owner. Those restrictions, says City Manager Gary Jackson, would prohibit the city from gaining a clear title to the property and bind its hands regarding the nature of future development there.

A March 29 letter from Jackson to Progress Energy Community Relations Manager Ken Maxwell advised the company to “proceed with other options for the property’s disposition.” In other words: find another buyer.

The same letter reiterated the city’s intention to continue relocation assistance for the remaining 31 households still at McCormick Heights. So far, 10 have been fully relocated and others are at some stage in the relocation process, according to a March 29 memo to City Council from Community Development Director Charlotte Caplan. Thirteen households have yet to make contact with the Affordable Housing Coalition, the nonprofit overseeing the relocation effort.

The development, located above McCormick Field, had sunk into severe debt due to a lack of renters. According to the Asheville Housing Authority, which manages the property, a high crime rate kept potential tenants away.

The decision not to move forward with the purchase was made by City Council in closed session, but at press time, the date of that meeting was not available. In her State of the City address on April 3, Mayor Terry Bellamy spoke directly to the issue, defending the city’s actions and saying, “The city did not jump the gun, nor did we do anything wrong.”

Council will hear a review of the events leading up to the decision at its April 10 meeting.

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