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Sylva leaders cheer affordable housing proposal

fr housingSylva’s leaders are applauding a plan to build a new apartment complex across the road from Harris Hospital as a step toward addressing the town’s long-standing shortage of housing that’s affordable to workers on the low end of the income scale.

“It’s a great project,” said Commissioner Greg McPherson. “I love the idea.” 

“We do need affordable housing for the workforce, and we don’t have much of that here in Sylva,” agreed Commissioner Barbara Hamilton. “We have such a small city limits that we don’t have a lot of land we can develop. I was impressed with it.”  

The Village Overlook Apartments will be a 54-unit complex featuring one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments located on an 8.2-acre piece of land behind the buildings that used to house Nick and Nate’s Pizza and Smoky Mountain Obstetrics and Gynecology. It’s being built by Clemmons-based KRP Investments, with plans to start leasing sometime in March 2018. 

“We’re excited for the opportunity and hope we get funded so we can come up there and build it,” said Karen Perry, owner of KRP. 

Of the $7 million development cost, more than $5 million would be funded through loans from the federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credit and state Workforce Housing Loan Program, which offer lower interest rates than the market rate and will in turn allow KRP to offer lower rental rates than they otherwise would. However, KRP is still in the process of applying for and receiving those loans. 

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The complex will be open to people making 50 or 60 percent of the area median income, with 11 units geared to the 50 percent bracket and the remaining 43 units for the 60 percent bracket. A single person living in one of the one-bedrooms units who makes 60 percent of the area median income, for example, would pay $569 for rent and utilities and need to show an income less than $22,740. A family of four living in a three-bedroom apartment for the 60 percent bracket, by comparison, would pay $786 for rent and utilities and need to show an income of less than $32,460. 

The plans call for two apartment buildings that are two stories high on the front and three stories high on the back — “We’re going to nestle into the side of the mountain very nicely,” Perry said — as well as a clubhouse that would house classes, special events, an exercise room, a computer lab and washer/dryer facilities in addition to the hookups planned for each apartment unit. The development will also include covered patio areas and a playground. 

“We absolutely want to build a community,” Perry said. 

A resident committee would give residents the chance to take ownership in their home, and the development would offer classes in budgeting, health, nutrition and exercise, among other topics. 

“As they are able to advance their careers and increase their income over time, they can live at this place for a while until they’re ready to move out,” Perry said. “It gives them an opportunity to succeed and to advance their own careers.”

Perry is excited about the location, as it’s within walking distance of a grocery store and pharmacy, and across the street from the hospital. The complex may well draw some of its residents from the hospital, she said. 

According to code compliance officer John Jeleniewski, the location is also unlikely to scare up any not-in-my-backyard attitudes, as it wouldn’t be encroaching on an existing neighborhood or community. 

“Introducing resident opportunities to this particular area of the town should expand the customer base for existing businesses and restaurants,” he told the town board. 

And because a traffic light already exists at the road’s junction with the highway, the apartments aren’t expected to cause any traffic issues. However, to make the pedestrian traffic likely to emanate from the buildings safer, Jeleniewski recommended that KRP incorporate sidewalks connecting to the existing one by the Smoky Mountain OB/GYN building into their plans. However, McPherson observed, if walkers were to cross the road to access the grocery store, they’d find themselves out of sidewalk. 

“That would be something I guess that we (the town) would look at for ease of use,” he said. 

After hearing what Perry and Jeleniewski had to say, commissioners voted unanimously to approve the conditional use permit needed to move forward. 

“I’m all for it,” said Commissioner Harold Hensley. “I’m for almost anything that will build a tax base.” 

Boosting the tax base is something that Sylva commissioners have held as a goal for a while, recognizing that the town has seen very few opportunities for expanded housing in recent years — in the past two years, only three new homes have been built in Sylva. 

Some commissioners look to the town’s land use code as one possible fix. The lot sizes mandated, some say, are too large and prevent families from building smaller, more affordable homes on town property. 

“We’ve just got to look for ways to help people have a home, because it’s hard,” Hamilton said. “It’s very hard.” 

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