Council approves rezoning request for proposed workforce housing

City Council
Searles Foundation President speaks to council about workforce housing

FANNIN COUNTY, Ga. — The Blue Ridge City Council voted on May 17, 2022 to approve the Blue Ridge Planning Commission’s recommendation for a rezoning request. The property, located at the intersection of Trackside Lane and Boardtown Road, is owned by the Searles Foundation. President Philip Searles was in attendance and spoke to the council about the workforce housing planned for the property.

During a meeting on May 3, 2022, The Blue Ridge Planning Commission heard the rezoning request from the Searles Foundation President. He shared that the foundation has proposed to build 84 workforce housing units. The commission recommended that the property, approximately nine acres, be rezoned from C2 to high density R3.

The recommendation from the commission, along with a staff analysis, was shared at a Blue Ridge City Council meeting two weeks later. Blue Ridge City Administrator Eric Soroka said the rezoning “would reduce the potential land use intensity from commercial to residential” and place no additional burden on the school system, the water and sewer systems, roads, or other public infrastructure. He also noted the intended use of the property would provide affordable housing, which fits in the city’s comprehensive plan.

“We’ve seen such a large outcry and support from the citizens of Blue Ridge for additional workforce housing,” Searles told the council. He noted that the units would be annual leases, not short term rentals. He also said one bedroom rents would start at $695, while two bedroom rents would be $831 a month. All but nine of the units would be restricted to tenants that fall within a certain range of income. In the remaining 75 units, maximum income restrictions are in place. To be eligible, a single individual would need an income less than $29,940 and a two person household would need an income less than $34,200. Searles later noted that a market study revealed a total of two thousand in the Fannin County area who would qualify.

Searles told the council that the foundation plans to allow residents from the Blue Ridge Housing Authority an option to move into the new development with no rent increase. Moving the residents would allow the housing authority to renovate their own 48 units, and residents would have the option to move back as well. That offer, Searles noted, is part of the Searles Foundation’s effort to work with the community and make the new development “as Blue Ridge as possible.”

Searles also discussed the future possibility of “phase two,” where an additional 72 units could be added to the property as part of a senior housing development. Both the council and Searles added, however, the foundation’s “phase two” goal would come at the city’s discretion, as it would require a new zoning classification to be created.

Searles also addressed a question from Councilmember Christy Kay, who asked about the distinction between the foundation’s housing and Section 8 housing. Searles noted that the workforce housing coming to Blue Ridge would be under the Section 42 program, “a financing mechanism” where the foundation receives a federal tax credit directly. Marshall Aiken, who was present for the meeting, is also affiliated with the Searles Foundation. He recently spoke during a panel discussion in Gilmer County where he further explained the “tax credit communities.”

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