Nearly 480 affordable housing units could be built on property owned by Buncombe County, according to a new analysis shared with the county Board of Commissioners. The Development Finance Initiative, a consultancy operating as part of UNC Chapel Hill’s School of Government, presented that finding at the board’s Feb. 21 briefing.
Buncombe hired the DFI in April to examine the potential of county-owned properties for affordable development. The DFI’s assistant director, Sarah Odio, outlined a market analysis and high-level site evaluation for four such properties, located on Woodfin Street, Coxe Avenue, Valley Street and Erwin Hills Road.
Odio said 8,100 low- to moderate-income rental households in Buncombe County are facing severe housing problems, meaning that they are either spending more than half of their income on housing expenses or living in substandard housing. She added that approximately 915 of the county’s existing subsidized housing units are set to phase out of affordability guarantees over the next decade.
To help fill that gap, Odio continued, Buncombe could subsidize development on county-owned properties. The biggest potential project, at 180 Erwin Hills, could have 160 units across several four-story buildings; the downtown developments would have between 48 and 120 units each.
The DFI assessment focused on the potential for those developments to earn federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credit awards. Buncombe has made taking advantage of the credits a pillar of its affordable housing strategy, with a goal of subsidizing up to 1,400 units through the program by 2030.
However, Odio explained, the tax credit program has requirements that could limit the number of housing units on county-owned properties. Parking could be a particular issue for downtown locations.
“It’s frustrating, but parking really becomes the limiting factor in the amount of density you can achieve on a site,” said Odio. “Because of the on-site parking requirement — for example, on Coxe Avenue, we know we have a parking deck two blocks away. It would be great if we could use that parking, but unfortunately, the tax credit program isn’t going to allow that.”
The LIHTC sets a minimum of 1.75 parking spaces per unit unless local government has a lower parking threshold. Odio said that other North Carolina cities, including Durham and Charlotte, have reduced their downtown parking requirements to promote housing development.
Board Chair Brownie Newman clarified that downtown Asheville developments currently have no local parking requirements, but according to Odio, the LIHTC program won’t accept zero parking spots per unit. Newman suggested aiming for 0.6 parking spaces per unit, with exact amounts to be decided during developer negotiations.
As a next step, commissioners will choose three of the four properties for further assessment. The DFI will then conduct site-specific analyses, which will include public input, financial models and a development agreement with a developer for each site.
“We always say that our work is not meant to be a report that you leave on your desk,” said Odio. “We will get you a partner. We will get you shovels in the ground.”
The full presentation of the DFI’s analysis is available online at avl.mx/cfv.
Pinners Cove residents continue opposition to proposed development
During public comment at the board’s regular meeting later on Feb. 21, six residents of Pinners Cove showed up to speak out against a proposed development in their community. The residents have been opposing the project for over a year; they had hoped plans would be scrapped after the Buncombe County Planning Board voted not to recommend rezoning the property for greater density in January 2022.
Since then, however, Minneapolis-based developer KLP Pinners EAT LLC has filed a new development application, using a process that will not require any public input or vote. The Pinners Cove residents expressed dismay at the county Planning Department’s role in shaping the new application. As previously reported by Xpress, emails obtained via a public records request show county staff and the developer discussing potential paths for the property.
“Personally, I felt pretty discouraged when I saw that it was the planning team of the county that were the ones to suggest this loophole of the easements to go ahead and push these things forward regardless,” said Pinners Cove resident Sam Chastain.
Chastain and others beseeched the Board of Commissioners to step in. “I ask this board to please take up the Pinners Cove question and review the issues. There is something very wrong with what is being proposed for our community, and we need help from our elected representatives,” said Chloette Kuhlman.
In a break from the commissioners’ policy of not providing feedback during public comment, Newman offered a response. “We are not going to endorse the project, but neither are we in a position to reject it,” he explained. “Different types of projects go through different procedures, as outlined in the county’s ordinances, and this is one that based on that process does not come before the Board of Commissioners.”
Newman then offered to discuss the issue with residents individually after the meeting.