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Originally published: 2013-07-22 09:33:20
Last modified: 2013-07-23 10:44:21

Task force exploring new Boone housing solutions

by Anna Oakes

The town of Boone's Affordable Housing Task Force received the go-ahead July 16 to evaluate new methods to facilitate affordable housing in Boone.

The Boone Town Council approved a request from the group for authorization to study, identify and recommend incentive mechanisms for development of affordable and workforce housing, including preferential treatment for water allocations and density bonuses.

The task force was also authorized to identify individual properties that might be suitable for redevelopment or development as affordable or workforce housing.

Town attorney Sam Furgiuele, who advises the task force, indicated the task force expects to consider the establishment of one or more moderate-density residential zoning districts reserved for housing types such as cottages.

The task force's last recommendation, presented in December 2012 and adopted by the town council in February, established new standards for all new multi-family housing built in Boone requiring features thought to be more suitable for families.

The adoption of the standards stirred an outcry among developers, some Watauga County officials and others in the community, who said the standards would cost more and not achieve affordable housing, while others applauded the move as a first step in providing solutions to Boone's housing challenges.

A housing study released in May, which was commissioned by the town of Boone and conducted by a New Hampshire consultant, concluded that Boone currently has a student housing surplus between 1,200 and 2,500, with that number expected to grow as more planned projects come online.

Despite the surplus, however, the consultant suggests there is "no natural incentive" in the market for developers to build anything other than student housing or expensive second homes, noting that many older properties are being abandoned in favor of newer developments with more amenities.

The older properties will not be simple to redevelop into workforce housing because they were built with students in mind, Taylor Yewell, senior associate at RKG Associates, said at a presentation of the study in June.

Yewell said intervention by the town and county is needed to achieve affordable workforce housing -- either by incentives, legislation that discourages an over-proliferation of student housing or both. Others at the meeting, however, argued that the market would take care of itself in time.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified Sam Furgiuele, town attorney, as a member of the task force. Furgiuele attends meetings not as a member but to answer legal questions from task force members.