Plans for The Bluffs call for two three-story apartment buildings to be constructed on a 3.5-acre parcel just a five-minute walk from Harold’s Super Market, with the development also including a clubhouse featuring computer, laundry and multi-purpose rooms.
“This just seems like this is a great thing for that spot there,” said Sylva Planning Board member Ben Guiney during the board’s Feb. 22 meeting. “It seems like it kind of fits.”
Town Manager Paige Dowling added that she’d heard from several neighbors who said they were fine with the development going in and that the existing light at Savannah’s intersection with West Main Street makes it “kind of an ideal for traffic.”
“Actually it’s the best-case scenario for a situation like this,” added John Jeleniewski of the Jackson County Planning Department, which contracts with Sylva for planning services.
Jeleniewski recommended just a few stipulations be placed on the existing application — construction of a connector sidewalk from the apartment buildings to Savannah Drive, lighting in the parking areas and other public spaces, and final reviews of the plans before construction commences.
The board voted unanimously to recommend that commissioners approve the application with those stipulations in mind, noting that Sylva’s need for new housing — especially for people on modest incomes — is a real issue for the town. The tax base has barely grown in recent years, and rental options for folks not in a position to purchase a $200,000 home are few and far between.
However, if the last few months are any indication, those options could be set to expand. In 2014 and 2015, Sylva didn’t receive any conditional-use permit applications for housing developments. During 2016, it received only one application. But with only two months of 2017 in the rearview, two such applications have been received.
Subdivision applications reviewed by the county planning board show a similar pattern. In 2014, no applications were received. In 2015, two were received and in 2016 one was received. So far, two have been received in 2017.
“There’s definitely more activity in there,” Jeleniewski said. “They have all been clustered together here the first of the year, especially right now, but with the calls we’ve been getting it seems like there’s more interest out there. Things seem to be ramping up with people looking at properties to see what they can do.”
Of the two applications Sylva has received this year, one was denied and the second — The Bluffs — won’t be heard until March 9. Of those received by Jackson County this year, one was approved and one was denied pending revisions — Jeleniewski expects to see that application, for a 108-unit apartment complex on Walter Ashe Road in Sylva, return to the planning board once the developer makes some adjustments to it.
A 2016 proposal to construct a 54-unit apartment complex behind the old Nick and Nate’s Pizza building would have catered to working families at the lower end of the income scale. But the project, named the Village Overlook Apartments, stalled when an initial application for funding through the state’s Workforce Housing Loan Program was denied. However, Jeleniewski said the developer has reapplied to the program.
“If that gets approved they’ll probably go forward with what they were approved for initially,” he said.
Town leaders were enthusiastic about the project when it first came before the board in April 2016, saying they were impressed with the plans and that the development would address a real need.
In addition to housing complexes geared toward working families in Sylva, Jeleniewski predicts there will be a growth in student housing in the Cullowhee area. N.C. Promise, a state program that will result in $500 per semester tuition for in-state students at Western Carolina University, is expected to increase demand for admission to the school, which could translate to overall growth in the Cullowhee area.
“We’re getting a lot of interest with that,” Jeleniewski said of student housing. “I think it’s the trickledown effect with N.C. Promise.”
The increase in interest from developers coincides with what Jeleniewski’s hearing from real estate brokers. In the Cashiers area, for instance, the value of homes sold in 2016 was 25.8 percent higher than the value in 2015, which was 13.3 percent higher than the value in 2014. The recession looks to be on the retreat in Western North Carolina.
“We’re just riding that wave again, it seems like,” Jeleniewski said.