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Greenville council divide on affordable housing evident in vote against senior development

Locust Hill Road senior housing project

This initial layout shows where an affordable senior housing project wanted to locate on Locust Hill Road next to an Ingles Supermarket in Greer. 

Greenville County Council denied a request Feb. 16 to rezone property next to the Ingles supermarket on Locust Hill Road in Greer for a senior housing development, citing an overwhelming number of residents who opposed the project.

But the debate the project stirred among the council showed the balance the county’s leaders face between an affordable housing crisis that is worsening and the concerns of existing residents over the number of new residents and traffic the pace of development is bringing to the county.

The council split 9-3 on the vote to reject the proposal to build a project designed as affordable senior housing. The project was presented as similar to other affordable housing projects the same developer has built in the area like Augusta Heights and Parkside at Verdae in Greenville, and Avalon Chase in Greer.

Those projects have been well-received, said Councilwoman Liz Seman, whose district includes Augusta Heights.

She said the choice the council must make in the months and years ahead is whether it will allow just this type of development to move forward considering experts’ warnings that Greenville could become unaffordable to many middle income residents.

“Multiple experts have told us we have a void in housing,” Seman said. “Eventually companies are going to stop coming here because there’s not going to be anywhere for their people to live.”

But at least 75 residents emailed or signed a petition opposed to the project, which would have required a rezoning from residential to multifamily zoning. County planning staff had recommended approval because the site is next to commercial property and other dense uses are nearby.

Councilman Mike Barnes, who represents the district, asked council to oppose the project and said his constituents who have lived on Locust Hill Road for years don’t want apartments next door.

Councilman Lynn Ballard said the request reminded him of one that had similar opposition in the Five Forks area from neighbors who didn’t want a senior living facility built nearby. That one was approved and the facility is working just fine, he said.

“Greenville County is in dire need of both senior apartments and affordable housing and the company that is going to do this is reputable,” Ballard said.

Ballard said the company would have included in the deed that the complex must remain senior housing.

Councilman Chris Harrison, who voted against the project in the planning and development committee, changed his position and voted in favor of the project, saying the developer was reputable and would protect their investment. He said the facility would clean up the mostly vacant lots and would make the area more desirable.

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But most on council deferred to Barnes’ wish to deny the project.

Councilman Joe Dill, said he has a number of large groups in his rural, mostly unzoned, district that are considering zoning their land to restrict development in the northern part of the county. If the council voted to change zoning against the community’s desires, it would show those residents that the county’s zoning means nothing in the face of a developer’s sway, he said.

It just wasn’t the right site, Barnes said.

“I’m not against low-income housing. I’m not against any of the above, but put it in the right place where it could be and should be, not on (State) 290 where all of the traffic is,” he said.

The majority of council’s position shows more education may be needed for the council and the community on what affordable housing is, Seman said.

“I think there’s a lot of misconceptions of what it is and who it’s for and the purpose behind it,” she said.

Affordable housing is defined as housing that an individual or family can afford for 30 percent of its income or less. Developers can apply for federal tax credits to provide housing for residents below the rate the local market commands so people who otherwise would be cash-strapped can afford to live in an area.

It is sometimes called workforce housing because often it will accommodate the incomes of those who earn 80 percent or less of an area’s median income. In Greenville, that’s about $57,000 for a four-person household, meaning many teachers, police officers or blue collar workers would qualify.

A Greenville affordable housing coalition that launched last fall said the county is already 10,000 units behind on affordable housing and also must rehab another 3,000 existing units over the next decade. If the county does nothing, it will be more than 20,000 units behind on the number of affordable homes it can provide by 2030.

The county already has the highest number of residents in the state considered severely cost-burdened, meaning they pay more than half their paycheck for housing each month.

More projects soon lie ahead for the council to make its intentions known on whether it will support affordable housing developments or not, Seman said.

“We’re already behind on housing stock,” Seman said. “What’s going to be our tipping point of people saying ‘Well, there’s nowhere to go in Greenville so we’re just going to go somewhere else?”

Follow Nathaniel Cary on Twitter at @nathanielcary

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