Story by Hannah Rosche | Times West Virginian
Over a month after an explosive Fairmont Planning Commission meeting (April 5), the Fairmont Community Development Partnership (FCDP) is reaching out to the community.
The planning commission special session was called for the rezoning of property adjacent to Windmill Park on Garrett Avenue in Jackson Addition. The request was to change the area from general residential to neighborhood mixed use in order to construct a 32-unit affordable housing complex.
The request was met with a group of concerned Jackson Addition community members, vehemently opposed to the construction of the affordable housing complex, citing increased crime and building conditions as reasons not to build the complex.
The FCDP currently owns the property adjacent to Windmill Park and was planning on selling it to The Chaplin Group, a private developer from Wheeling, according to Andrea Salina, FCDP executive director.
The FCDP began in 1992. Its first area of development was the Maple Avenue area.
“We did mostly single-family homes for purchase,” Salina said. “We would demolish old structures and put new housing in its place for people to buy. We didn’t move into rentals in that neighborhood till about 10 years ago. We don’t have a lot of rentals out there. The majority of the rentals are owned by the (Fairmont-Morgantown) Housing Authority.”
Salina said in the Jackson Addition area, the FCDP has done a multitude of development and improvements.
“We’ve invested a little over $4.8 million over there between various grants and funding streams,” Salina said. “We’ve done a lot of work. But a lot of that isn’t happening right now, so it’s gotten kind of stagnant. I understand that. The community just hasn’t seen any activity, probably from the housing authority either because it’s kind of slowed down out there.”
In 2005, a Small Cities Block Grant funded the FCDP’s demolition of 23 structures. As a result of that demolition, a number of empty lots in the area are owned by the FCDP, according to Salina, but construction isn’t an option for those lots due to their small size.
The lot adjacent to Windmill Park has been property of the FCDP since 2002, Salina said. The partnership wanted to make use of the lot and re-enter the property into the tax base.
The Chaplin Group expressed interest in the property and desired to construct the 32-unit affordable housing complex. Salina said the developer planned to construct four buildings with eight units contained in each building. The units would have been “town house style.”
Salina said the units would be rented at a fixed price that would not raise if the renter were to secure a job that was higher paying or receive a raise. The renter would have to be working to rent the unit. The rental is income-based.
“After a 15-year affordability period, they would have the opportunity to purchase those town homes,” Salina said. “There was an end-goal of homeownership. They just weren’t those traditional single-family houses.”
At the Fairmont Planning Commission meeting in April, concerned community members suggested that the developer build single-family homes instead of a 32-unit complex. Salina said those types of homes couldn’t be constructed due to lack of funding.
“The main reason why we aren’t building those houses anymore is that HUD implemented a rule in 2013 that any single-family home for purchase by a low-income person has to sell within nine months of us completing construction,” Salina said.
“Trying to find someone who meets the low-income guidelines who also has a 640 credit score is very, very difficult. We would be left with these houses still on the market and then HUD would recapture the funding and we’d end up converting them to a rental anyway.”
Salina said the complex would have diversified the FCDP’s funding so that it could make an impact on the housing authority’s wait list, which consists of more than 800 people. She said the 32-unit complex would have given some of those on the wait list a place to live.
Other concerns of citizens were the introduction of illegal activity and depreciation of property values if this complex were built. Salina said those were two common misconceptions associated with affordable housing.
“That hearing was expedited so we didn’t have a whole lot of time to gather enough information to show the community that crime rates have actually been reduced by that type of housing being built, and that the property values would actually increase by bringing something new and valuable to the neighborhood,” Salina said.
Moving forward, the FCDP is becoming more present in the community. Salina attended one of the four Community Visioning Conversations sponsored by the Westside Action Coalition, facilitated by West Virginia University’s Masters of Public Administration.
“I was able to explain to our group about the funding stream and the fact that the market is not swaying us to build single-family homes to be sold,” Salina said.
She said the conversation was successful and that she plans on attending other Community Visioning Conversations in the future and perhaps holding a walk-through session through the neighborhood to educate individuals on what the FCDP does in the community.
Fairmont City Manager Robin Gomez said a 32-unit affordable housing complex construction in that area is a possibility in the future.
“Going forward, as we revise the comprehensive plan and the zoning ordinances, we will look to change that and allow those developments,” Gomez said. “Ultimately, city staff and the public will input their opinion and ultimately it's up to our city council to adopt the revised comprehensive plan and zoning code.”
But since the hearing, the developer has moved on to look for property elsewhere.
“In the meantime, we have been in talks with the city,” Salina said. “We haven’t done anything formal yet, but we have approached the city about other plans for that property that would not include a formal development. It would be us trying to negotiate that property to the city so that they could potentially add it on to Windmill Park or something like that.
“Under previous administration, it was being sat on for about 12 years. We were just thinking about what we could do to utilize the property that we have. We shouldn’t, as a tax-exempt organization, just be holding properties with no plan to develop them.”
Some of the other lots that the FCDP owns have also been put up for sale.
“We’ve had some offers from private individuals who might potentially buy the property to build a house or whatever they feel the need to do with it,” Salina said. “It's zoned to build single-family homes. Our thought is, can we sell the properties to private individuals because they are most likely to develop that kind of housing?”
Salina said the FCDP wants to “follow the need, not the money.”
“Even if we could have gotten that area rezoned, I don’t think I could have morally gone forward with the development knowing that the community was so against it,” Salina said.
Gomez said the city of Fairmont will continue to work with the FCDP to improve the city.
“They’re a good partner in the economic development and redevelopment of the city and the county,” Gomez said.
Salina is looking forward to the future and plans on creating a good relationship with the community.
“We have a bad reputation from the past because we just went in and did what we wanted to do,” Salina said. “Now we want to make an effort to reach out to the community.”
Original article: http://www.timeswv.com/news/fcdp-makes-commitment-to-reach-out-to-community/article_4aebbf2a-1998-11e6-8616-5b763fed4d22.html