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Originally published: 2012-12-26 11:45:09
Last modified: 2012-12-26 11:50:07

Group seeks family-friendly housing

by Anna Oakes

New development standards proposed by Boone's Affordable Housing Task Force aim to curb the proliferation of three- and four-bedroom student housing projects in town and create more housing stock suitable for families and the work force.

On Dec. 13, task force Chairman Lynnwood Brown presented proposed text for a new section in the town's United Development Ordinance, Section 175: Supplementary Standards for Multi-Family Housing Development to the Boone Town Council.

The standards, if approved, would apply to all new multi-family projects in all zoning districts in the town of Boone except for multi-family units that are part of a mixed-use building under UDO Section 179.

Under the new standards, no more than two unrelated persons could reside in each unit.

"Right now all we're getting with multi-family is nothing for non-students," said Lynne Mason, a Boone Town Council member and member of the Affordable Housing Task Force. "(Under the proposed standards,) it certainly wouldn't preclude students from renting but (would make) it available to the broader community."

The task force aims to diversify bedroom configurations in apartment buildings. Many of the new apartment complexes built in Boone feature units with three or four bedrooms and an equal number of bathrooms, with each roommate paying between $550 and $700 in rent.

"A townhome-style design and a mixture of unit configuration and sizes per development shall be encouraged," the draft text states. "No one type unit, as defined by number of bedrooms, shall comprise more than 50 percent of the total units."

The section would require that a master suite at least 25 percent larger than every other bedroom be designated in every unit with two or more bedrooms, to be no less than 144 square feet excluding closet space.

The text would limit the number of bathroom-to-bedroom ratio as follows: efficiency and one-bedroom units, one bathroom; two-bedroom, one or two bathrooms with at least one having common access; three-bedroom, two bathrooms with at least one with common access; and four-bedroom, three bathrooms with at least two with common access.

Garages or carports would be required for at least 25 percent of units, and storage space of at least 50 square feet would be required for units without garages.

In addition, developments would be required to provide a half square foot of livability space for every square foot of total floor area. Livability space is outdoor living space and landscaped areas, including lawns, walkways, paved terraces and sitting areas and outdoor recreation areas. Of that, half of the area would be designated for the use of ground floor units and half would be designated for the use of the entire development as recreation space.

Residential buildings would be limited to three stories of occupied space and no more than 50 feet in height. Parking would be limited to two spaces per unit, with a designated parking area for visitors.

Developers proposing new student housing projects say there is still plenty of demand for student apartments in Boone. But others disagree, pointing to previously unseen vacancies, offers such as one month of free rent and anecdotal statements by university officials as signs that supply has caught up with demand in recent years.

"It's a serious issue ... with existing units not being rented and then the potential of blighted properties down the road," said Lynne Mason, a Boone Town Council member and member of the Affordable Housing Task Force.

A housing analysis due in early spring is expected to shed more light on Boone's current housing market.

"This is just a small piece of what we need to address," Mason said. "We'll be incorporating other measures throughout the next year."

Mason said the task force hopes a diversified housing stock will create the competition needed to drive down rent prices in Boone.

"When you have a more diverse housing stock, it will help market conditions," she said. "I hope that we can get to the point where we can create incentives for affordable housing as well."

A public hearing on the proposed standards is scheduled for the quarterly public hearing meeting on Feb. 4.