During its meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 2, the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners approved a rent restructuring for the Eagle Market Place development. The move will cut the amount of affordable housing units in the development by nearly half, and will supplant those units with workforce housing. Commissioners also approved a rezoning request and made a number of board appointments.
Eagle Market Place shuffle
Wyatt Stevens, a lawyer representing the EMP development, laid out the case for why 30 of the project’s 62 housing units should transition from affordable to workforce rates. Stevens said affordable housing units are for people making 60 percent or less of area median income; those units would cost about $251 to $766 a month. Workforce housing is geared to those making 100 to 120 percent of area median income, and would cost from $1,120 to $1,400 per month.
Asheville City Council approved similar modifications to the project plans on Nov. 10 last year; the project team needed the County’s agreement to ensure that County funding would remain in place despite the changes in the mix of affordable versus workforce housing.
“What we are envisioning is a mixed-income development that a lot of folks believe is really a better model for projects like this,” said Stevens. Potential residents will have to supply tax returns, go through background checks and meet other qualifications. A property management company will administer the rental process.
EMP is a joint venture between the nonprofit Mountain Housing Opportunities and Eagle Market Streets Development Corporation. It’s a mixed-used development aimed at revitalizing downtown Asheville’s historically African-American neighborhood, known as The Block. The project received funding in 2012, but it has been in limbo since a crack developed in the concrete slab of the structure’s second floor in October 2014. Work resumed the following year to remove the faulty slab, but construction has not restarted in earnest.
Buncombe County originally committed a loan of $300,000, with the promise of an additional $2 million loan after the building receives its certificate of occupancy. However, the delays and increased costs have caused the development to seek additional, private funding. Stevens said the rent restructuring will allow EMP to pay back the additional loans incurred.
Stevens said it cost $600,000 to rip out the faulty concrete, but the project has recouped about $2 million in insurance money from the engineering and architecture firms involved; the project also has a $300,000 credit with the general contractor.
“We can solve this problem. We have good people that have crunched the numbers. We have lenders in place to do this deal. No lender is going to pay $3 million if they don’t think we can pay back. We just need restructured rent to fund that loan,” pleaded Stevens.
The overall cost of EMP is approaching $14 million for the residential component, but representatives say they are calculating it at about $12.3 million due to money recouped from insurance payouts.
“We are as frustrated as you and the community are about how long it has taken to unravel this mess. I can’t tell you how complicated the litigation was,” explained Stevens.
County Commissioners raised concerns about the rent restructuring while also affirming their commitment to the project. Commissioner Ellen Frost said she hopes all of the units eventually will return to affordable housing status.
“When we get project done, if we can convert workforce housing back to affordable, we will do it. That’s the mission of this organization [Mountain Housing Opportunities]. I believe workforce housing is a huge need too,” noted Stevens.
Commissioner Tim Moffitt asked whether, with the rent restructuring, Stevens is confident the debt service will be satisfied. Stevens replied that he is “100 percent confident.”
“This is a neighborhood that has been chronically undeserved and overlooked with all the progress that’s gone on around it. It’s a community that deserves and wants [EMP]. Rates are still below market value, even on the high end. We have a moral obligation to make sure that everybody that works and chooses to live here can afford it,” said Chairman David Gantt.
Commissioners unanimously approved the rent restructuring, but also insisted that Buncombe County Planning Director Jon Creighton and General Services Director Greg Isreal be involved with construction planning, progress and oversight.
Stevens said the project will break ground for the second time as early as September. He said the project team is optimistic the residential portion will be complete by December 2017.
The public weighed in about a proposed rezoning of 7.5 acres at the intersection of Kennedy and Clarks Chapel roads in Weaverville, from R-3 to CS (commercial service district). County staff noted that the two parcels of land are currently vacant and, as a result of the rezoning, would be home to a pottery studio and equipment storage for a landscaping company.
Six people spoke against the rezoning, citing increased traffic and the potential for larger commercial entities to occupy the property in the future. Chapel Road resident Peggy Olson urged the board, “Please say no to this. It doesn’t seem right we should have random commercial things…No one wants commercial in their residence.”
“I don’t have trouble with the pottery and landscape businesses, but I worry about the future and what it’s going to do to that neighborhood,” said resident Tim Holcombe.
Randy Yantz, one of those requesting the rezoning, said the retail space would only be 160 square feet and the rest of the space would be used for manufacturing pottery. “We may have the occasional customer, but our primary focus is products that get shipped,” said Yantz, noting that the business would create “very little retail traffic.”
County staff also noted the land is on septic, and commercial operations like hotels and larger retail operations would likely not be able to get septic permits.
Ultimately, commissioners approved the measure with Gantt casting the lone vote against it.
Commissioners made the following board appointments:
- Agriculture Advisory Board
Alan Lang – Unanimous
- Health and Human Services
Jim Pitts – Unanimous
- Airport Authority
David Gantt – Unanimous
- Tourism Development
Leah Ashburn – Unanimous
- School Capital Fund
Brownie Newman – 4-3 (Mike Fryar, Joe Belcher and Moffitt opposed)
Ellen Frost – 4-3 (Fryar, Belcher and Moffitt opposed)
- Adult Care Home Community Advisory Committee
Toya Hauf – Unanimous
- Nursing Home Community Advisory Committee
Karen Campbell – Unanimous
The Buncombe County Board of Commissioners next meets on Tuesday, Aug. 16.