Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Workforce housing development declined by planning board

The sign at New Beginning Christian Church. Pastor Robert Campbell’s plans to build workforce housing were declined by the planning board even after revisions. (Courtesy Port City Daily/Copeland Jacobs)

WILMINGTON — A proposed workforce housing development was turned down by the planning board last week.

READ MORE : Church plans second affordable community in Castle Hayne

It’s the second project from New Beginnings Church since it broke ground on Covenant Senior Community, a 10-acre affordable housing development for seniors in Castle Hayne. 

New Beginning, represented by Cindee Wolf of Design Solutions at the public hearing on Thursday, wants to rezone a 10.94 acre parcel of land at 3100 block of Blue Clay Road from R-5, or residential district zoning, to RMF-M, residential multi-family moderate density. According to the meeting packet the property was previously rezoned to R-5 in 2022. 

The church’s goal is to construct Covenant Family Community, with 128 two and three-story units, which would be permitted under the proposed zoning. The proposal was reduced from its original 180 units, all with three stories, following comments at previous board meetings about open space.

Development Review Planner Love Ott said the maximum allowable number of units under the current zoning is 68. The proposed 128 units would exceed that of the surrounding residential areas, which are zoned R-10 with a density of 3.3 units per acre. 

Wolf said the new proposal before the planning board increased open space to 3 acres and reduced proposed parking to preserve a pond on the property. Under Wilmington’s land code, ponds qualify as open space.

Wolf told the board the proposed plan addresses the largest affordability gap in the updating housing needs assessment compiled by Bowen National Research’s Patrick Bowen in 2021. The assessment predicted for the next decade, there will be a 2,787 unit housing gap within the less-than $575 rent price range and the less-than $23,500 annual income range. 

Arguing in favor of the development, Pastor Robert Campbell of New Beginnings took the lectern and stressed the project was to build workforce housing, not low-income housing. A Brookings’ study defines workforce housing as programs designed to provide dwellings for households earning too much to qualify for affordable housing. 

Workforce housing has become more prominent in recent years.  Through much of the 20th century housing was within the financial reach of middle-income households, only becoming difficult when the Great Recession stymied dwelling options in urban areas across the country. The result is costs of living increasing faster than wages. These and other factors make it prohibitively expensive for middle-income households to live in the cities where they work. 

Workforce housing would help area teachers, emergency personnel and police officers who make roughly $40,000 in the area.

The board voted unanimously against the build-out, saying the project would not be in keeping with the existing neighborhoods in the area, occupied by single-family dwellings, not multi-family.

Five people living in the Rachel’s Place neighborhood nearby spoke in opposition Thursday. Joan Farrell said she believed the development would set a precedent for adding apartments to areas of single-family housing, affecting quality of life and bringing down property values.

The latter also concerned Christina Stevens, who added she was worried about theft from teenagers, connecting crime with workforce housing. 

“I’m not a young woman anymore. I can’t fight off teenagers and somebody that is going to steal from me and whatever from crossing over that bridge,” Stevens said. 

Defending his proposal after the public hearing, Campbell drew a hard line between workforce and low-income housing, emphasizing that only people with jobs would be able to become residents at Covenant Family Community.

However, nonprofit organization National Low Income Housing Coalition, states it is a popular myth that public housing, which may be conflated with workforce housing, is a cause of crime. Instead, high crimes are associated with areas that have a lack of opportunity, such as jobs, education, and goods. 

Hansen Matthews of the planning board asked Campbell about accessibility to basic needs like grocery stores and restaurants. He said developments should ideally be within “cart distance” of essential stores, which he defined as less than a mile. The nearest Food Lion is roughly 3.5 miles from the proposed housing site. 

Concerns about potential environmental damage and poor drainage also were raised by Steven Gallagher, a fear reiterated by resident Susan Perry, who was concerned about traffic too. Perry said Wilmington’s roadways were worse than her former residence in D.C., which she attributed to insufficient infrastructure. 

Perry spoke about the poor drainage of the nearby Rachel’s Place neighborhood, fearing the housing development would worsen the problem. 

To assuage the public’s fears the NHC Chief Project Engineer Galen Jamison explained the water from the church’s property would flow north, avoiding the infrastructure in the south, which he admitted was deficient. 

Hipp made a motion to decline the proposal, reasoning that, though the development was consistent with the purposes and intent of the 2016 Comprehensive Plan — and the density of the development is within the range recommended by the community mixed-use place type — the proposal was still more intensive than neighboring properties. He added it was not consistent with the development patterns in the area either.

Kevin Hine encouraged Campbell and Wolf to try and make it work with 68 units, to be more harmonious with the area and a win-win. 

Vice Chair Colin Tarrant expressed admiration for the church and its attempt to fill Wilmington’s need for housing. 

“Rome wasn’t built in a day, and it’s a collective effort, and it all can’t be done on one piece of property. And you have to weigh the increased density on the neighboring pieces of property,” Tarrant explained. 

Port City Daily reached out to Hipp to further explain his reasoning and Campbell to see if he will continue to bring forth the development to the board of commissioners. Commissioners would weigh the planning board recommendation, ask its own questions and another public hearing would be required. 


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