Ballantyne project adds more affordable housing
City Council critics appear won over by 'great deal'; approval of massive development looks likely next month
|Tony Mecia||May 12, 2020|
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Northwood Office to donate 4 acres to city for affordable housing in Ballantyne; 260 below-market apartments out of 2,000
The developer planning a huge mix of restaurants, retail and apartments in the middle of Ballantyne is adding more affordable housing to its plans as the City Council nears a vote on the project.
At a council meeting on Monday night, Assistant City Manager Tracy Dodson told council members that Northwood Office, which owns the Ballantyne hotel and Ballantyne Corporate Park, is increasing the number of affordable apartments that will be available to renters with lower incomes than previously envisioned.
The plan, submitted to the city last week, calls for Northwood to donate 4 acres of land to the city in the project’s two phases, for a total of 260 affordable-housing units, aimed at tenants making between 50% and 80% of the region’s median income.
If the City Council agrees to rezone the 454 acres, as expected, the affordable housing would be part of a massive development mostly on the existing golf course that would include 2,000 apartments, 300 townhouses, 300,000 s.f. of retail and 400,000 s.f. of new office space. That’s pretty big. The idea is to pump new energy into an area of town sometimes thought of as sleepy and suburban.
Council complaints: Originally, Northwood had proposed a total of 160 units for tenants making 80% of the region’s median income. But it upped the offer on affordable housing units after two council members in March expressed concerns that the development included an insufficient number of below-market-rate apartments.
Now, the apartments — which would make up about one of every eight apartments in the Ballantyne Reimagined development — could be available to a family of four with household incomes as low as $39,500. It’s sometimes referred to as “workforce housing.”
One of the council members who objected to the original plan pronounced himself satisfied with the revised version: “I’m very excited about the project,” said council member Malcolm Graham. “I think it has come a long way as it relates to the affordable housing. I think we’ve got a great deal on the table.”
The second council member who had objected in March, Dimple Ajmera, did not speak about the new plan on Monday.
Bigger picture: Pushing developers to include affordable housing in their proposals requires an intricate back-and-forth. The city cannot require developers to have affordable housing as a condition of a rezoning, and council members are legally not supposed to consider the presence or absence of affordable housing in their rezoning decisions. But developers know the city wants more affordable housing — especially in wealthy areas such as Ballantyne — so they often craft proposals to stay in the city’s good graces.
Asked by a council member why the Ballantyne project didn’t include affordable housing at even lower income levels, Mayor Vi Lyles responded that “it was a negotiation.”
Worries about traffic, schools: Although Ballantyne Reimagined is a huge project, it has generally encountered little public opposition. At a public hearing last month, several speakers expressed concerns about the effect on the area’s already overcrowded schools, and others have worried about traffic. Other residents, though, have said they would welcome a destination that would include an amphitheater, restaurants and green space. It could also eventually connect to light rail.
A vote is expected next month. The county first has to sign off on some of the finances connected to road-building.
“Are developers warming to affordable housing?” (Aug. 5, 2019)
“Affordable housing proposed for Ballantyne” (July 29, 2019)
“Massive new town center for Ballantyne” (June 8, 2019)
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