“It’s zoned neighborhood residential, which is one of our higher density districts, and they would like to put an apartment complex, 200 units, on 41 acres,” said Elizabeth Teague, Waynesville’s development services director.
While not strictly meeting the definition of “affordable housing” — defined as housing that costs less than 30 percent of one’s income — the one- to three-bedroom units should go for between $700 and $1,300 a month.
The problem is, as stipulated by the town’s table of permitted uses, multi-family housing isn’t allowed in the Plott Creek Neighborhood Residential District.
“It’s well below the density threshold for the district,” said Teague, noting that the developer wouldn’t use the whole parcel, and would stay out of the flood plain and off the slope.
“It’s curious, because multi-family is allowed in most of the other neighborhood residential districts,” she said.
Indeed, the town’s zoning map — laid out in the 2020 plan — currently delineates a number of so-called “neighborhood residential” districts such as Allens Creek, Love Lane, Main Street, Nineveh, Pigeon street, Raccoon Creek and Walnut Street.
All allow for medium-density multi-family housing except for Sulphur Springs and Plott Creek; the reason for the exceptions isn’t clear and may be lost to history, but they appear to be intentional and may be a result of a desire to preserve the rural character of the area.
The parcel is the only such district west of the Great Smoky Mountain Expressway, and also abuts the town’s border with Haywood County land.
“The issue may also be the influx of traffic on Plott Creek Road,” Teague opined. “With Hazelwood School [just east of the proposed development] there’s already a traffic problem.”
But the county is still in the grips of an affordable housing problem — a crisis, according to community leaders who have been studying the problem for more than a year. Although affordability is a top concern, a general lack of rental property in the county has made it difficult for renters of all income levels.
“It’s the classic planning problem, which is, we really need rental property and as the dialogue of affordable housing has grown, one of the missing pieces is what I call ‘workforce housing,’” Teague said. “We just don’t have a lot of big parcels zoned appropriately for multi-family.”
Other than potential complications with traffic, the parcel is in what Teague said was a good location for more residential development — close to the expressway, and close to a central business district “for people who are coming to town for a job, or people coming back from college, or people wanting to retire here.”
As the town considers its new comprehensive plan — currently under development and expected to last 20 years — problems like these arise, and need to be answered.
“If we don’t allow multi-family in this type of location, why not and where else should it go?” she asked.
For now, developers would need a text amendment to the current zoning on the parcel. Assuming a favorable one is drafted, it would have to be approved by the planning board and then by town aldermen before construction could begin.
The planning board meets at 5:30 p.m. the third Monday of each month at Waynesville’s Town Hall.