Haywood County and the town of Waynesville chalked up a win for affordable housing with the approval of an application for the federal low-income housing tax credit on Friday afternoon.
The tax credits were approved for the Brookmont Lofts project, an affordable housing complex that will renovate the old hospital property in Waynesville and create around 50 affordable rental units.
This marks the fourth attempt at securing these tax credits, after three successive near-misses for similar projects.
In January, the Haywood County Board of Commissioners voted to sell the property, located on North Main Street in Waynesville, for $225,000 to a developer, contingent on approval of the tax credits.
Without the credits, which amount to a $6.9 million windfall over 10 years, the deal would have been off between the county and Brookmont Lofts developer Landmark Realty. As it stands, Landmark has until September to make a decision on whether to proceed on the project.
Haywood County Special Projects Administrator David Francis said this will be the largest housing project the county has seen in at least 10 years once it’s underway, and it couldn’t come at a better time.
“We’re getting a new housing study done for the county, and there’s already a preliminary read on that, about what the need is for workforce and affordable housing,” he said. “We’re looking at a broad spectrum, things for elderly people and for families, and this project is aimed more at elderly people and also veterans. It’s going to be the biggest project we’ve had in this area since The Laurels, which were built in 2007 or so.”
The approval of the tax credits is an all-around win for the county, said Haywood County Board of Commissioners Chairman Kevin Ensley.
“It’s a big win for the taxpayers because we don’t have to spend $7,000 a month to maintain the building,” he said. “And then it’s a win for the workforce, too, and for housing for seniors and veterans. It’s going to be a lot more one-and-two-bedroom apartments available for rent.”
A good deal of planning was done to meet the criteria to apply for the tax credits, which lays the groundwork for the project to get underway quickly.
“They’ve already done some of the preliminary work, they know about the environmental issues and things they need to do as far as permitting with the town of Waynesville, those types of issues,” Francis said.
Landmark Realty’s Director of Development and Construction Management, John Stiltner, said the team is committed to the project and ready to continue working through the process as soon as possible.
“The next step is to start working on the architecture and engineering,” he said. “We need to get what we’re going to do to the building put on paper, so we can submit it to the state historic agency.”
Waynesville has supported this iteration of the project from its inception, issuing letters of support in early May before the applications were submitted for the tax credits.
In the letters, Waynesville Mayor Gavin Brown offered a number of in-kind services to the developers, including waiving building permitting and tap fees up to $7,230, providing water and sewer lines, designs and permitting fees up to $58,000 and constructing sidewalks to meet the town’s specifications valued at up to $106,842.
Waynesville’s town board also declared the area surrounding the old hospital an economic redevelopment zone, which moved the project into a smaller pool of candidates, increasing the odds that the project would be selected for the tax credits.
Ensley said he was grateful for the town’s willingness to push the project forward.
“I was thankful they declared it a redevelopment zone, I know that helped,” Ensley said. “That was a piece of the puzzle, and I think there were a lot of those smaller pieces to the puzzle that came together to make it successful this time around.”
With so many failed attempts to redevelop the old hospital property in the rearview mirror, this go-round seemed to be the county’s last attempt to keep the building intact before throwing in the towel. Were it not for the tax credits, the outlook for the county was not good — not only is the old hospital historically significant piece of Haywood County’s heritage, but it would have been extremely costly to demolish the building and prepare the site for another prospective buyer.
“We probably would have had to tear it down. It would have been around $1 million, from what I was told,” Ensley said. “Then, basically, what we’d have is a vacant piece of prime property but we wouldn’t have recouped our money on it.”
Francis said he was thrilled to be able salvage the building rather than tear it down.
“Challenges present opportunities, and opportunities present challenges. This had some of both for us,” he said. “But, in the end, we’re renovating North Carolina’s first county-owned hospital, and it’s pretty cool that it will be around for another 90-plus years. It makes me happy we were able to save it.”
Stiltner echoed Francis’ sentiments, saying it was a relief to see the project succeed after so much groundwork was done to get to this point.
“It’s kind of like when a girl in school gave you the cold shoulder, and finally she lets you take her to the dance,” Stiltner said. “These buildings in communities that we’re looking at, it really is a love affair. And then to come to a community like Waynesville and fall in love the community too, I have to say that since I started working on this project in 2015 there’s been no point in time when I was willing to give up on it.”