North Charleston's Planning Commission recommended denial in a request to rezone this Russelldale site that would pave the way for affordable housing units. The Planning Commission applauded the project, but said it only examines the zoning of properties. Rickey Dennis/Staff

As pricey apartments go up across the Charleston region and gentrification trickles its way north of the peninsula, nonprofit groups and government agencies have been trying to establish homes that people can afford.

But one affordable housing development in North Charleston may not get the zoning it needs to move forward.

The North Charleston Planning Commission has unanimously recommended denial for a rezoning that would pave the way for affordable units in the Russelldale neighborhood.

The commission applauded the project and cited that affordable housing is needed in North Charleston, but commission members noted they only examine whether rezoning decisions would be appropriate for an area.

Now, the wait remains to see whether City Council members will go against the commission's recommendation in order to bring more affordable residences into the state's third-largest municipality.

"This commission does not look at projects," said Chairwoman Sharon Reed.

Currently, there are two apartment buildings containing 20 units on two parcels on Ruselldale Avenue, with one parcel vacant. Under the current R-2 zoning, the property is maxed out. A rezoning to Commercial Redevelopment would allow more units.

Jonathan Yates, the local attorney who represented the property owners at the Aug. 12 commission meeting, acknowledged that city staff also recommended denial based on the property's proximity to the residential neighborhood. But he urged the commission to "look at what's good for the community."

"Great things are happening in North Charleston. But not for everybody," he said. "We all deserve to have a place we can be proud to call home."

The rezoning would allow day cares, cafes, liquor stores, barbershops, theaters and other uses. The commission said that making a decision based on a potential project could be risky since the project could never pan out, leaving the area vulnerable to a host of other commercial options inside a residential area.

"The project is great," Reed said. "In terms of the rezoning request, we'd be opening it up to quite a bit."

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Housing affordability has been a concern across the Charleston region, and the area hasn't been able to keep up.

In February 2018, the North Charleston Housing Authority opened up its wait list for 1,000 applications. But the wait list had to be reopened in November because half of those applicants were unable to find housing, according to Sonya Hanchard, who works with the authority's Admissions Department.

Hanchard said the area has more people looking for housing than there are affordable houses.

"We don't have enough landlords willing to participate," she said.

Change is on its way to North Charleston neighborhoods like Russelldale, a community of fewer than 200 homes located along the bustling Rivers Avenue, which will also be the home a bus rapid transit line. While area planners say the system will lead to growth along corridor, there's been concern among community groups about whether the growth would lead to displacement. 

Tony Grasso, the Russelldale neighborhood president, rents out several properties in the neighborhood. He welcomed the idea of affordable residences and called the initiative a great idea.

Follow Rickey Dennis on Twitter @RCDJunior.