The Mount Airy Board of Commissioners voted 3-2 Thursday afternoon against seeking federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds to aid a 56-unit apartment complex, after some citizens questioned the move.
However, the project will still go forward, with an official of the Jamestown firm that is developing the apartments saying Thursday that a way will have to be found to make up for the $250,000 that was sought in CDBG money.
Before the vote, Craig Stone, the president of Wynnefield Properties, had told the commissioners that if the plan to seek the CDBG funds was derailed, “we would unfortunately have to go up on rent.”
The Edgewood Place apartment complex will be built on Edgewood Drive in the vicinity of Walmart, representing an investment of more than $7 million. In addition to the CDBG money that was sought, the project is being financed with the help of tax credits and a governmental loan program.
Edgewood Place is targeted for local working families in need of affordable housing, with market studies showing that Mount Airy has a demand for newer apartment units given a present stock of older structures that are in bad shape in many cases.
The specific question before the commissioners Thursday was whether to hold a public hearing on Nov. 15 on a proposed re-application for the $250,000 in CDBG money by the municipality. A similar application was denied earlier this year, which Stone said resulted from heavy competition for limited funds.
Officials have said that the money sought for Mount Airy could have been used for infrastructure needs such as streets, sewer lines and sidewalks for the apartment complex.
The 3-2 vote by the board seemed to reflect prevailing support among the commissioners for the housing project going forward, but without the CDBG money and the baggage involved. One deciding factor appeared to emerge from a question raised by Commissioner Jon Cawley, which regarded the need to beat a Nov. 30 deadline in applying for those funds.
Cawley was told by City Manager Barbara Jones that if the commissioners agreed Thursday to schedule the public hearing, the application process would begin even before citizens had a chance to comment on seeking the CDBG assistance.
“We do have to move forward with the homework on it,” Jones said of the extensive documents needing to be assembled.
Board members also acknowledged receiving numerous comments from local citizens who object to efforts allowing governmental funding to aid a private company, and one located outside Surry County. That includes a $3,500 application fee the municipality would have to pay, which Stone said his company would reimburse to Mount Airy if the grant request were unsuccessful.
Such opposition also was evident Thursday afternoon when several citizens spoke on their concerns about the project during a public forum portion of the meeting.
Some said they believed Wynnefield Properties had not provided full disclosure on all the funding aspects of the development, how the firm stands to profit and exactly who will occupy the units labeled as “affordable” housing.
“You’ve been fed bits and pieces,” said one opponent, Peter Templeton, while Paul Eich, another, said he was concerned over the “fuzzy math” involved with the project.
However, Britta Needham of Pilot Mountain — who is part of a family group that owns the property on Edgewood Drive — expressed support for the project. Her statements mirrored those of local residents earlier this year who overwhelming backed the move to provide new housing and the application for CDBG funds during a public hearing before the municipality made its first try for them.
“It means the world to us,” Needham said of herself and other family members who believe Edgewood Place represents a good use of the site.
“To have something of this magnitude in our community, I think it would be something the citizens would appreciate,” Needham added.
Leading up to the 3-2 vote against holding the hearing, Commissioner Scott Graham expressed support for the apartment complex and the strategy taken by Stone to make it a reality. Graham indicated that some citizens might not like what is being done with government money these days, such as tax credits, but the Wynnefield Properties president is just playing by the rules.
“I admire what Craig Stone is doing — he’s taking advantage of what’s available out there,” Graham said.
Pointing out that the application for CDBG funding had failed previously, Graham added, “I’d like to just see us move forward with the project.”
Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or firstname.lastname@example.org.