Planning Commission split on multi-family proposal
by Anna Oakes
The Boone Planning Commission on Monday voted 5-4 to recommend the town's approval of proposed Unified Development Ordinance standards for multi-family housing, but nearly all of the commissioners agreed during discussion that the proposed amendment "needs some tweaks."
The proposed regulations would apply to all new multi-family projects in all zoning districts in the town's jurisdiction except for multi-family units that are part of a mixed-use building under UDO Section 179.
The new standards would require garages or 50 square feet of storage space, a .5 livability space (outdoor living, landscaped areas) ratio and a master bedroom at least 25 percent larger than other bedrooms. The amendment would also mandate a mix of unit sizes in each new multi-family project, restrict bedroom-to-bathroom ratios, restrict building height to three stories and limit parking to two spaces per unit with a designated visitor parking area.
Finally, the proposed standards mandate that no more than two unrelated persons can reside in each unit.
Proposed by the town's Affordable Housing Task Force, the standards are an attempt to create more housing stock suitable for families and the workforce. Critics at a Feb. 4 public hearing said the standards would only increase the costs of construction, raising rent prices as a result.
Commissioners Bob Cherry, Donald Dotson, Tom Purpur, Cameron Lippard and Phoenikx Buathier voted in favor of the motion to recommend approval, while Commissioners Susan McCracken, Greg Simmons, Web Alexander and Eric Woolridge voted against the motion.
"I think it needs some tweaks. I think it needs more public input," said Lippard, who is also a member of the Affordable Housing Task Force. "Not one person (at the Feb. 4 public hearing) said we didn't need affordable housing. It's time to think about how to get more investment from people who say we need affordable housing."
Although commissioners agreed that the standards would help create a diverse housing stock in town, most of them said the proposed standards do little to affect affordability.
"It doesn't have anything to do really with affordability; it has to do with standards for multi-family housing," said Simmons.
Simmons said he spoke with Jim Smith of Fayetteville-based United Developers, which recently received approval to build an affordable housing project in Boone. Smith said that land costs are the chief obstacle to affordable housing in Boone, and because of that, "his greatest concern with this language was the 50 percent open space," Simmons said.
Woolridge said he would not recommend that the town tie its own hands and lose its ability to be flexible with developers. He also emphasized the limited amount of time the Planning Commission had to review the proposal, having received the proposed amendment only five days prior to the Feb. 4 hearing.
McCracken did not agree with taking the prevailing form of multi-family housing off the table and asked if the town could provide incentives for family-oriented housing instead.
The Boone Town Council will consider the proposed standards at its regular meeting next week.