Apartments are making headlines in Waynesville again, this time with a 210-unit complex along Russ Avenue that’s been in the planning phase for over two years.

Aside from stockpiling giant mounds of fill dirt and erecting construction fencing, there had been little movement at the site until last week when the old strip mall formerly home to BI-LO grocery store was razed.

The parking lot commonly used as a short-cut is closed for now, but developers pledged to make the cut-through open to the general public once construction is complete. Construction costs — which include two, four-story apartment buildings — are estimated at $34 million, according to building permits issued in September.

Demolition was just the beginning, however, so don’t expect to see buildings going up anytime soon.

“They have to do a lot of site work before they can start building,” explained Waynesville Development Services Director Elizabeth Teague.

Given the site’s low-lying nature along Richland Creek, it must be elevated for floodplain compliance. The developers stockpiled dirt earlier this year from a construction site at the other end of Russ Avenue where dirt was removed to build Shining Rock Classical Academy.

To ensure a stable foundation, extensive excavation for the footings is required, as well.

The name of the complex, Mountain Creek Apartments, plays off its Richland Creek frontage. The tract was initially 9 acres, but developers deeded the town a 1.5-acre strip running along Richland Creek for a greenway extension. This will fill in a missing piece of the greenway puzzle between the recreation park and downtown.

Initially, the developers were going to give the town a greenway easement, but instead conveyed the creek frontage to the town outright.

“It gives us full control of that area to become part of the linear park system and greenway we’ve been working on,” Teague said. “It worked to their advantage, too, because that portion of the property was in the floodway.”

Incentives

Deeding property to the town for a greenway was part of a larger incentive package offered to the development firm, Atlanta-based TriBridge Residential with numerous apartment complexes across the Southeast.

The firm went through the site design and zoning approval process in late 2019. A year later, the firm returned to the town seeking economic incentives.

In addition to deeding over the greenway property, the incentive package also included a pledge to set aside 20 of the 210 apartment units for moderate-income renters.

“The town worked with them to incorporate some more affordable units into the development,” Teague said.

A third component of the incentive package was tied to public infrastructure improvements being put in by the developers, including streetscaping, curb and gutter, sidewalks, landscaping, lighting, water and sewer lines, and stormwater infrastructure.

In exchange, the developers will get property tax relief from the town over 10 years — with a 75% break on property taxes the first four years, a 65% break on property taxes the next two years, and a 55% break on property taxes the last four years, at which point the tax breaks would end.

The exact dollar amount of the incentives is contingent on the final the property tax value of the completed project.

Assuming the finished apartments had an assessed property value for $25 million, at the town’s current tax rate the developers would get around $850,000 in property tax breaks over 10 years, but the town would still come out ahead with a net of $350,000 in new property taxes over the same period.

In addition to the property tax windfall, the town will also get to add the apartment complex as a water, sewer and electric customer.

The project is exactly the kind of in-fill development that the town has tried to encourage through its land-use policies — one that concentrates growth in the town core and repurposes what would otherwise be a stagnant, shuttered strip-mall into an economic driver.

While the apartments were blamed for BI-LO’s demise in the court of public opinion, in reality, the Waynesville BI-LO was axed by corporate as an “under-performing” location within a year of Publix opening — which brought the grocery store count along a half-mile of Russ Avenue to four.

The owner of the BI-LO strip mall saw apartments as a more viable alternative than a retail strip mall without an anchor.

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