(Photo: Form & Function Architecture)
ASHEVILLE – Approval of a proposed $19 million River Arts District apartment complex has been delayed a second time after City Council concerns about high rent prices.
The 133-unit Stoneyard Apartments were slated to be reviewed at Tuesday’s council meeting, but Mayor Esther Manheimer asked that the public hearing be delayed to "a date uncertain." The council unanimously approved the delay with no discussion.
Manheimer didn’t say whether the date change was initiated by the council, the developers or both. No one from the Saluda-based AltInvest development group spoke at the meeting.
The project, which would be the biggest planned for the "RAD" in four years was first set to come before the council July 25 but was delayed at the agreement of the council and AltInvest.
Prior to that meeting, Councilman Gordon Smith had called for AltInvest to agree to below-market-rate rents on more than 26 of the apartments. Those would be reserved for people making 60 percent or 80 percent of the area median income, now calculated at $42,938 for a single person or $61,300 for a family of four. If developers didn’t want to reduce rents they should instead give $750,000 to the city’s affordable housing trust fund, Smith said.
This month before Tuesday’s meeting the Citizen-Times polled council members about the development. A majority said affordability would be a big factor in their decision whether to approve a zoning change developers needed for the project.
Lead developer David LaFave declined to say what rent prices they hoped to charge. Asked whether they would agree to lower rents, LaFave said the group wanted the project “to stand on its own merits.”
But Manheimer said there were negotiations happening. At least four of seven council members – Vice Mayor Gwen Wisler, Brian Haynes, Smith and Keith Young – said affordability could tip their votes. But the mayor said she wanted to get public input on the issue.
Manheimer said AltInvest was promising other features some might feel are more important, such as lower-rate artist studios as part of the development and public parking for an area where finding a spot for a car can be tough on busy tourist days.
Councilman Cecil Bothwell said he thought it might be difficult for developers to lower rents because of the high cost of flood proofing the development.
Councilwoman Julie Mayfield was out of town at the time of the poll.
The development is proposed for 175 Lyman St. at the site of a former stone yard.
The city is planning a more than $50 million infrastructure overhaul for the RAD including a greenway, sidewalks and other features for the former industrial district now swelling with tourists visiting artists studios, breweries and restaurants.
In 2013 the council approved the RAD Lofts mixed-use development with more than 200 residential units, office and retail space on the corner of Roberts Street and Clingman Avenue. But financing and other issues have delayed the construction start.