Miller, others against housing regs
by Anna Oakes
Watauga County Commissioners Chairman Nathan Miller on Monday urged the Boone Town Council not to adopt new multi-family regulations under consideration, saying they would effectively terminate the county's pending sale of the old Watauga High School property.
Miller was among 11 people to speak at a public hearing before the council and Boone Planning Commission on development standards for multi-family uses proposed by the town's Affordable Housing Task Force.
"Know that this will kill that project," said Miller, referring to an $18.9 million offer to purchase the 74-acre WHS property from Templeton Properties made in late October. The contract for the sale includes a 180-day inspection period during which Templeton could walk away from the deal without forfeiting any money.
The proposed regulations would require certain amounts of storage, outdoor living and master bedroom space; mandate a mix of unit sizes in each new multi-family project; and restrict bedroom-to-bathroom ratios in an attempt to create more housing stock suitable for families and the workforce, but critics say the standards would only increase the costs of construction, raising rent prices as a result.
Currently, 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.
"All the other interested bidders on that property had a student housing component as a part of their development plan. It's simply an economic reality," said Allen Moseley, attorney for Templeton Properties. "I would suggest to you that adopting this ordinance would effectively terminate any other developer's interest (and) probably lower the price point of this property a lot -- maybe as much as $10 million."
Moseley proposed adding an exemption for conditional zoning districts.
Members of the task force argued that the market is not providing a balanced array of housing stock for families and professionals such as teachers and policemen.
"In the end, balance is the goal," said Lynnwood Brown, task force chairman. "(The proposal is) not intended to prevent or restrict student housing, per se."
Task force Vice Chairwoman Pam Williamson acknowledged it is "probably true" that affordable housing will cost developers more to build and that the task force supports financial incentives to help developers build workforce housing.
But developers interviewed by the task force "indicated to us that there were not any particular carrots that were of interest ... because they did not see enough of the profit that they felt they required regardless of those incentives," Williamson said.
She pointed to the Cottages of Boone, an 859-bed student housing community being built off of Poplar Grove Road just south of the Boone town limits. At $500 to $600 per room, the development will be bringing in a half-million dollars in revenue per month, she noted.
"The question is: what's enough (profit)?" Williamson said.
Williamson said the town needs to act now because "while the need and demand for workforce housing is at a crisis point, there are very few areas within the town's zoning jurisdiction ... where you can develop it."
Angela Day, an Appalachian State University student with a part-time job, said many students are looking for affordable housing in Boone, too.
"It is very, very hard to find affordable housing. The large complexes are viewed as definitely too much and out of reach," she said. "My apartment complex ... you can feel dents in the floor, because that's what you can afford. It's one of the cheapest but still very hard to afford."
Some speakers asked why workforce housing should be required at the exclusion of student housing.
"I don't think they have to be mutually exclusive. Why not have places for workforce housing and students?" said Dan Meyer, Boone Area Chamber of Commerce president. "I'm just concerned that we're focusing on one versus the other as opposed to both."
The Planning Commission will consider the Unified Development Ordinance amendment at its Feb. 11 meeting, followed by Boone Town Council consideration Feb. 19 or 21.