City Council commits $4.2 million to redevelopment of Lee Walker Heights

HOUSING UPGRADE: The Buncombe County Board of Commissioners approved a letter of support that pledges $4.2 million to the redevelopment of Lee Walker Heights. Above is a rendering of what the new housing development would look like. Image courtesy of David Baker Architects

City Council pledged $4.2 million to the redevelopment of Asheville’s oldest public housing neighborhood, a move Mayor Esther Manheimer said will address needs and provide opportunity for a community that has historically been under-served.

The project will demolish 96 existing units on an 11-acre site at the foot of Asheville’s South Slope. New infrastructure and 212 units of deeply affordable and mixed-rate housing with community spaces will replace the antiquated, barracks-style row houses. Residents living at the complex when construction begins will be relocated to other Asheville Housing Authority units and will have an “absolute right of return” to the neighborhood when the first phase of construction is complete, said Housing Authority CFO David Nash.

At its April 26 meeting, Council approved a zoning change for the property, from RM16 to Urban Place Conditional Zoning, to support the higher density of the redeveloped community.

Council also approved a deal with Duke Energy that gives the city an option to purchase the former Matthews Ford property at 319 Biltmore Ave., which is adjacent to Lee Walker Heights. Duke bought the property for $5.3 million several years ago; the new agreement gives the city the option to buy it for the same price at any time over the next eight years. As part of the agreement, Duke Energy will immediately grant the city the right to build an access road into Lee Walker Heights from Biltmore Avenue. In exchange, the city agreed to allow Duke easements to access substations within the city limits. Additionally, Duke can decline to sell the property to the city if the utility provider is not satisfied with substation ordinances in place when the city wishes to exercise the option.

The $4.2 million will mostly be used for infrastructure such as roads, sewer lines, water lines and site work. The city’s commitment is contingent on the project receiving low-income tax credits. A decision on those funds is anticipated in August. If the tax credits are approved, construction on the $33 million project could begin in April 2017, Nash said.

The city’s commitment represents an investment of about $20,000 per unit, which Jeff Staudinger, the city’s assistant director for community and economic development, said was consistent with the level of support provided by other cities for similar redevelopment efforts.

Asheville Housing Authority CEO Gene Bell said the information Council reviewed about the design and financing for the new buildings is important, but the most important part of the project is “changing people’s lives.” Crystal Reid, who has lived at Lee Walker Heights since 2009, called her involvement in planning for the project “a journey.” After months of community meetings, Reid said, “I am very educated at this point.” Resident Joseph Tarrant explained that he is most concerned with providing safe play areas and new opportunities for children living in the neighborhood. 

Manheimer noted that the planning and design of the project was driven by the community: “We’ve heard from residents tonight. They have been involved throughout process.” Manheimer seemed elated to see the project coming to a vote. “I’m amazed we’ve made it this far,” she said.

Council member Keith Smith related that his grandparents were the first to move into the community. “There’s a lot of history at Lee Walker Heights,” he said, adding that he would vote for the project “with caution.” Young urged Council to consider the impact of the project funding on other affordable housing needs going forward.

Council member Gordon Smith ruminated about changes since the complex was built. “Truman was president,” Smith said. “Gas was 18 cents a gallon. The world has changed a lot, and we need to change Lee Walker Heights along with it.”


Other articles on the April 26,2016 meeting of City Council:

Asheville City Council: big money edition


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12 thoughts on “City Council commits $4.2 million to redevelopment of Lee Walker Heights

  1. Yep

    WHY should AVL taxpayers be fleeced by this heinous housing organization who shites on the taxpayers all the time? There should
    be a lawsuit to STOP this crap. Our City Council is nothing BUT EVIL PEOPLE! EVIL. Yes ALL of them.

  2. William Johnson

    I am not a math major but 4.2 Million divided by 212 units is approx. $198,000 per unit not $20,000. Interesting also, how easy it is for the City to Change the Zoning to suit their development needs while making it nigh impossible for others. The real test of how it will “change people’s lives” will be when statistics show how many people get out of Lee Walker Heights and off of the Public Housing roles. It appears to be a positive step, but truthfully is worthless without addressing the poverty, and other factors that push people into Public Housing. The goal should be to do away with the need for the Asheville Housing Authority. Best wishes.

    • Virginia Daffron

      Hi William Johnson, no math major here, either (philosophy, actually), but the math works out for me. When I divide $4,200,000 by 212, I get $19,811. 32.

    • luther blissett

      “The goal should be to do away with the need for the Asheville Housing Authority. ”

      Well, that and a rainbow sparklepony.

      Public housing has a necessary function, especially in a city with lot of low-paid jobs and not many places to live on those wages. It’s as much of a vital asset to the city as any other bit of public infrastructure, even if its presence makes the usual bigots scream and wail.

    • Yep

      yes, scaling back public housing is what city council was asked to do, but NOooo they have to STEAL $4.2 MILLION from the taxpayers to GIVE to those who never pay taxes! council members do not deserve air to breathe…

  3. In case you want to know why developers don’t jump all over the supposed lower income housing market, let’s look at this project:

    With free land the cost is projected to be $33 mllion (I’ll take the over if anyone wants the under)or 156,000 per unit.

    With land costs a developer would incur, and a modest profit margin, the cost per unit will be well over 200k. If the $33 million base is as unreliable as other city projects, then the sky is the limit.

    • Virginia Daffron

      You make a really good point. Consider, too, the city’s leverage in obtaining an option to purchase the Matthews Ford property, and in negotiating a second access into Lee Walker Heights through that property. A private developer couldn’t do either of those things, or only at project-sinking cost. This is an extremely complicated project and site. For better and for worse, it’s hard to imagine how a private entity could ever make it work.

    • luther blissett

      Developers buy land, build units, and GTFO, taking their profits to the next scheme. Of course, this often means they slap up shoddy plastic and sheetrock houses and the suckers, I mean buyers have no recourse when bits start falling off. This project is meant to last for the next 50 years, and the onus will be on the city building something well now so that it doesn’t need more expensive maintenance and refurbishment later.

  4. Gordon 1820

    I am curious to know why the city chose to have the purchase option of the Matthews Ford site at 5.3 million. They could purchase the Asheland Hilliard Duke site for 1.7 million and put their housing project there. This is already next to a residential neighborhood and would save them 3.6 million. They could also use the land they already own on Asheland to complete the project. So long as this is workforce housing and not heavily subsidized housing it would be a great fit. You have transit in both directions, it is closer to the city for jobs and walkable.

    The Duke sub station should go on the Matthew Ford property, it is close to their biggest customer Mission hospital, and no one would notice it there.

    Now that the Isaac site has been eliminated, and effectively this site, the sub station only has one place to go which is Asheland/Hilliard. 20 feet from a residential neighborhood.

    • The Real World

      Oh thanks be to God, Gordon!
      You’re proof that there are at least a few in this ‘ville who can think bigger picture, manage several variables. not emotionally knee-jerk react, continually look for a bogey-man in everything (see bigot comment above, on cue) and make some bleeping sense!
      I’ll sleep a little better tonight, thanks.

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