Boone council denies housing plan due to affordability doubts

Article Published: Dec. 23, 2009 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011

The Boone Town Council fielded two large residential projects and an annexation request during Thursday's regular meeting.

The council heard a rezoning request for Poplar Cove LLC to construct 15 multi-family units, 12 single-family units and a duplex on property near Poplar Grove Road and Poplar Grove Connector. A request for a special use permit for 40 single-family lots on the property was denied by the Boone Board of Adjustment in July. The council opened the case to further testimony because several audience members had signed up to speak on the rezoning.

Barney Hodgson said Poplar Grove Road is "still an old country road" that was dangerous and that neighbors were concerned about the effects of the project. "We feel like the density (of the proposed project) is too great," he said.

Sandra Hayes said the property adjoined hers and she was concerned about students moving into the subdivision and disrupting established single-family neighborhoods.

The property is currently zoned for single-family residential use and borders the Watauga County Human Services Center and is within walking distance to the Appalachian State University campus, though there are no sidewalks along Poplar Grove Road.

The N.C. Department of Transportation reported the project would generate one trip every two minutes during peak hours. The project as proposed would not allow left turns from Poplar Grove Road. Project developer John Winkler said large employers would be approached to seek homeowners among workforce families, and Winkler said a federal tax credit would encourage first-time home buyers. Winkler said the price ranges of $179,000 to $199,000 would deter student occupancy. Winkler noted building many units helped lower the overall price of each unit, which was the only way to make the homes fall in the "affordable housing" range.

Watauga County Economic Development Commission member Jason Triplett said workforce housing was a need in the community and larger employers were importing workers from outside the county. He said he wasn't for or against any particular project, but said workforce housing was one of the EDC's top identified needs.

Bunk Spann, chairman of the Boone Area Planning Commission, said traffic safety was an important concern of the commission, and said the commission favored the project if it was promoted as workforce housing.

Council member Jamie Leigh said she campaigned on the preservation of single-family neighborhoods. She said there was a perceived cost to other neighborhoods, but affordable housing was part of the town's growth strategy. She said she wasn't convinced the project would be used for family housing instead of student housing.

Council member Andy Ball said the development would put people at risk, whether they were biking, walking or driving.

Council member Lynne Mason said "It's about balancing competing needs,"and said the project preserved some steep slopes while shuffling the areas of density around on the property. She said she wanted a better understanding of how the project would be marketed and how sidewalks and roads would make the project more accessible. She said a higher-density project could already be developed under the existing property zoning.

Leigh made a motion denying the rezoning, seconded by Ball, saying it didn't fit the town's comprehensive plan. "Right now I'm weighing R-1 neighborhoods against affordable housing, and I'm not convinced this will provide affordable housing," Leigh said.

Because a valid protest petition had been submitted, a supermajority council vote was required. The council voted 2-2 for denial, with Leigh and Ball opposing and council members Stephen Phillips and Lynne Mason voting for it. Because of the tie, Mayor Loretta Clawson also voted, siding with Leigh and Ball.

Boone Exchange Partners had submitted a request to rezone three properties on Old Bristol Road to allow for an additional apartment building to join two already permitted buildings, for a total of 18 units. The council discussed traffic effects on the area, considering speed bumps or an additional entrance, both of which were acceptable to the developer. The request was approved, changing the property zoning from residential to General Business.

A public hearing was held for the annexation request that will bring three parcels of property into the town limits.

The parcels near Bamboo Road contain Watauga County property occupied by the Health & Hunger Coalition, Caldwell Community College & Technical Institute, and the future home of the Hospitality House.

The council voted 2-1 to approve the voluntary annexation, which would require the town to provide water and sewer service. Phillips voted against the proposal and Mason recused herself because she is director of Hospitality House.

Greg Simmons of Daniel Boone Drive Extension commented on fencing at the new high school, saying the neighborhood was concerned about the appearance and safety of the chain-link fence. He said there had been stormwater run-off because of the project and said people were willing to consider easements once a stormwater design was in place. The council expects action on those issues early next year.

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