Blue Ridge, Ga. – The Beverly J. Searles Affordable Housing project is one step closer to coming to Blue Ridge. This comes after the Planning Commission voted unanimously to recommend moving forward with rezoning of certain acreage to R3 high density residential.
The Beverly J. Searles Foundation, a Georgia based nonprofit that develops affordable housing, has a variety of requests pertaining to properties located along Mineral Springs Drive.
Among these requests is for 1.2 acres of the property to be annexed into the City of Blue Ridge. Variances will also be considered for Phase 2 of this project, which will include units for age restrictive (senior) living. These variances are to reduce the number of required parking spaces from two per unit to one per unit and to increase the density from 10 units per acre to 12.
The Planning Commission was present to give recommendation to Blue Ridge City Council on whether the current zoning of the land should be moved from R2 to R3, allowing for a higher density population.
Philip Searles, President of the Beverly J. Searles Foundation, was in attendance to explain more about the project.
According to Searles, the project would be in competition with 90 to 100 other proposed housing developments across the state of Georgia. Ultimately the Georgia Department of Community Affairs would have final say on which of these projects would receive funding to move forward with construction.
“We believe what we have in Blue Ridge would be competitive,” Searles said of the proposed development off of Mineral Springs Drive.
The project consists of two phases with Phase 1 being family units and Phase 2 being restrictive age units (55 years of age and older).
Together 171 new units would be developed, 87 for family units and 84 for restrictive age.
Rent is based on median income of the area and is currently being proposed starting at:
- $603 for one bedroom/one bath
- $655 for two bedroom/one bath
- $722 for two bedroom/two bath
- $822 for three bedroom/two bath
- $900 for four bedroom/two bath
The buildings in the family units section would be three-four story split units, while all buildings in the restrictive age units would be single story.
“We know that affordable housing is a major issue in Blue Ridge. This is why we’re here,” Searles stated of the need for these units in the area.
Traver Aiken, who currently manages the Blue Ridge Housing Authority, will take over management of the affordable housing built by the Beverly J. Searles Foundation and all current residents of the Housing Authority will be relocated into the new units: “All of my units under multi family housing under HUD (United States Department of Housing and Urban Development) will be moving to that facility.”
There are currently 48 residents to be relocated.
Planning Commission Board Member Angie Arp commented on the current cleanliness of the Housing Authority units and questioned if the same care will be taken with the new project.
“Same policies would be in place,” Aiken responded to Arp, and welcomed anyone with concerns to look into his history with Blue Ridge Housing Authority, “I think I run a pretty tight ship.”
Applicants to the new facility would have to undergo a criminal background check. Aiken stated that applicant’s previous landlords would also be contacted and that there are provisions in the policies for Aiken to even do a current property inspection of an applicant’s living conditions before making the decision on if the applicant would be a good fit for one of the units.
Biannual HUD inspections would also take place of the units as well as inspections for the State of Georgia.
Residents of the area were present in opposition, stating many concerns over the placement of the project on Mineral Springs Drive. A petition with over 100 signatures was also presented in opposition of the new development.
“It’s going to put a burden on the fire department. It’s going to put a burden on the police department. It’s going to put a burden on the roads. It’s going to put a burden against the whole neighborhood,” one resident stated.
Those present in opposition explained that there are concerns of criminal behavior in the area. They also expressed concerns over infrastructure (sewer and water), drainage and traffic along Mineral Springs Drive, stating that the added development would only amplify these already existing issues.
Of major concern is the added traffic to Mineral Springs Drive. The road already sees a number of motorists due to the existing Mineral Springs Apartments (not affiliated with the new project) and many teen drivers from Fannin County High School.
Residents of the area feel that a development of this size would be better suited along Hwy. 515 where the added traffic could be handled.
Both those for and against the proposed development agreed that the intersection of Mineral Springs Drive and Aska Road would be of major concern as its current setup has been the cause of many near miss collisions. The County, however, would have to address this intersection as both roads in that particular area are County roads.
Searles addressed those present in opposition, “As much as it hurts me to say, Nimbyism (NIMBY – acronym for Not In My Backyard) is a true thing. I deal with this everywhere I go, cause everybody says we want affordable housing, we just want it out there.”
Planning, Zoning and Project Manager Jeff Stewart gave the staff analysis of the area, recommending that before any Land Disturbance Permit is issued he would like to have an engineer evaluate the sewer and water. If any updates to these systems must take place the developer would have to cover costs.
Stewart also recommended getting letters of approval for the proposed development from the Fannin County Fire Department and the Fannin County School District.
The Planning Commission voted unanimously to recommend rezoning of the area, with completion of the recommendations of the staff analysis.
If approved on a local and state level, The Beverly J. Searles Foundation affordable housing project could begin next year, with Phase 1 (family units) starting in June 2022 and Phase 2 (restrictive age units) starting in June 2023.
City Council is expected to vote on the rezoning at their monthly meeting scheduled for Tuesday, May 11, 2020.