Originally created 02/11/99

Housing board dropping request



AIKEN -- The Aiken Housing Authority is withdrawing its request for a zoning change that would allow 80 subsidized homes in a neighborhood that doesn't want them.

The authority still plans to build as many houses as it can on a 20-acre tract in north Aiken under existing zoning, however, Executive Director Reggie Barner said Wednesday. That will mean about 60 houses for low-income families in the community that would rather have none.

Some residents say what they really object to is not the houses but the people who will live there. And they fear their own property values will go down.

Mr. Barner said it's hard to combat the public perception of "the projects" that equates all public housing with crime, trash, filth and drugs. "But we can address the legitimate concern that our plans would create too high a density in the neighborhood," he said. "We will simply live with the present zoning regulations, which require 10,000-square-foot lots. The change we wanted would have allowed 7,500-square-foot lots, but I notified the city today that we are no longer requesting a change."

Backing down precludes a potentially nasty public hearing before the city's Planning Commission like the one held Tuesday night for rezoning five acres in the same neighborhood off DuPont Circle. That's where the Housing Authority still hopes to build an apartment complex for elderly people of low and moderate means.

After a contentious hearing on that proposal, Aiken's Planning Commission voted 4-3 to recommend the zoning change that Mr. Barner requested. Now Aiken City Council has to vote on it, and that likely means another testy hearing before that group in March.

Between now and then, Mr. Barner said, he has offered to take residents who are willing to Greer, where a complex like the one he's proposing already is operational. "I'd like for them to be able to walk the complex, knock on doors and meet the people," he said. "They can see for themselves that this is not a bad thing for their neighborhood."

The proposals are separate, but residents of the Brucewood community are treating them like a package deal. They are Phase I and Phase II of a master plan for 39 acres of property that have gone undeveloped despite more than a decade of trying by the current owner.

The Housing Authority has no current plans for about 14 acres of the site, which has drainage problems and may be partially wetlands. After that issue arose at Tuesday's hearing, Mr. Barner said he asked engineers to take another look.

The apartment complex and houses would be owned by New Labor Housing and Economic Development Corp., a nonprofit subsidiary of the Housing Authority, but they would be privately managed.

Financing would be largely through tax credits syndicated to private corporations. The houses would be available for purchase by residents after the tax credits expired.