Friday, April 12, 2024

River Place, a multi-million dollar, taxpayer-funded luxury condo development won’t have affordable options

City leaders have done a lot of talking about affordable housing but did not require any aspect of the new River Place development to incorporate affordable housing, in fact, a one bedroom condo starts at more than $300,000.

Artist rendering of the River Place development, currently under construction. Mellow Mushroom is the second confirmed restaurant tenant in the project. (Port City Daily photo / Courtesy Cape Fear Commercial.)
Artist rendering of the River Place development, currently under construction. (Port City Daily photo / Courtesy Cape Fear Commercial.)

WILMINGTON — “Welcome to River Place, the ultimate in livable luxury, unfolding 92 luxury condominium residences in the premier location of downtown Wilmington, NC near the beautiful and historic Cape Fear River,” this is the message visitors to River Place’s website are greeted with as they browse.

The development will boast a roof-level pool, a club room with billiards, and a concierge — but there is something missing from the development: affordable housing options.

The development is a public/private enterprise between the City of Wilmington and a private developer and despite numerous recent discussions by City Council about the need for affordable housing in Wilmington, no requirements were put in place for the developer to provide it at River Place.

Far from affordable, the units are explicitly marketed as “luxury” units — it will cost more than $300,000 for a one bedroom residential unit and $551,000 for a 1,267-square-foot, two-bedroom condo.

River Place

The development is a partnership between the City of Wilmington and Water Street Ventures, LLC; City Council has agreed to spend more than $20 million of taxpayers money for a self-described luxury condo development (the word luxury is used four times, just on the homepage of the website).

The original agreement states, “… the Facility will be limited to the current zoning height of 132 feet, with approximately 170 high-quality (for sale and/or lease) residential dwelling units.”

But so far, the development is only listing 92 residential units, 78-units less than what was agreed upon. This could be, according to City of Wilmington spokeswoman Malissa Talbert, because the listed units are just the ones for sale, not for lease.

The development’s website does not say anything about leased units being made available, or their starting price points.

Talbert acknowledged City Council did not require affordable housing for the development but said the city has been working to help provide it in the future.

“The River Place agreement does not include affordable housing component. Council has taken several actions over last two or three years related to affordable housing, including a resolution to include workforce/affordable housing as one of criteria for public/private residential projects that came after River Place was approved,” Talbert said.

Most recently, the City Council voted to approve a resolution that would look favorably on a developer who could incorporate affordable housing options at the former Wave Transit bus depot — but that does not mean they will get, or approve, affordable housing for that location.

“Council has also revised the city’s Surplus Real Property policy to designate surplus real property for affordable housing if a viable redevelopment plan is summited by [an] eligible developer,” Talbert said

Port City Daily reached out to the entire City Council to ask why affordable housing was not required for the River Place project — no councilmember responded.

(Editor’s note: In past council votes on issues concerning River Place, Councilman Kevin O’Grady and Mayor Pro Tem Margaret Haynes have recused themselves. O’Grady previously confirmed he recused himself because he and his wife have contracted a unit in River Place; Haynes has never responded to questions about her recusals.)

Project Grace

Plans for the development of Project Grace have been submitted to the county and now the developer along with the county are looking for public input on the plans (Port City Daily/Courtesy Zimmer Development Co.)
Plans for the development of Project Grace have been submitted to the county and now the developers, along with the county, are looking for public input on the plans. (Port City Daily/Courtesy Zimmer Development Co.)

A similar development is taking place just a couple of blocks away and is a public-private partnership between the county and a developer. Details of the project are still being negotiated, but affordable housing has been a ‘want’ for county leaders.

Related: Retail, residential, and office space: Project Grace moving forward, public input sessions planned

“Commissioners asked staff to discuss with Zimmer’s development team about the possibility of adding affordable housing within Project Grace. That has occurred, and the development team has agreed to add an affordable housing component to the proposed housing on the block. If the Commissioners direct staff to proceed with negotiations for Project Grace (that vote will likely take place at the April 1 meeting), then affordable housing will be a point of negotiation for the county,” New Hanover County spokeswoman Jessica Loeper said.

Project Grace will also see the redevelopment of the downtown library as well as the Cape Fear Museum at the location.

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