Old hospital loading dock

APARTMENTS ON THE WAY —The area around the old Waynesville hospital property has been declared a redevelopment zone.

The recent story on the 210-unit apartment complex being planned between downtown Waynesville and Russ Avenue, the town’s fast-food, grocery and retail area, has drawn plenty of criticism.

From readers lambasting the town for upscale developments to decrying the lack of affordable housing, plenty of people expressed opinions on the apartment complex. Many of those speaking out chastised the town for letting something like this happen when they should have been directing efforts toward lower-income housing.

There were equally as many comments on a seemingly unrelated issue regarding the town governing board’s discussion regarding appearance regulations for fencing. So many people were upset about interference with private property rights that a new Facebook group quickly gathered more than 160 members.

The question town leaders must be asking themselves is “what is it exactly that people want?”

Do the private property rights being asked for in residential areas apply to those who own commercial property? The issue can’t be sliced and diced both ways so it suits whatever spin one group or another has depending on preferences.

In the case of the apartment complex in the former Bi-Lo shopping plaza, town regulatory boards are going through the process to ensure the property owner is following all the applicable rules. As long as the developer didn’t violate any of the rules, the town would be facing a lawsuit if aldermen arbitrarily turned it down because some thought it was too high-end for Waynesville.

On another note, however, the town isn’t sitting idly by and ignoring the need for affordable housing.

Waynesville has been working with Haywood County for years to convert the former Haywood County Hospital on North Main Street into affordable apartment units. That project is on track to provide 50 or so rental units primarily aimed at veterans and the elderly. Since these potential renters are likely already in the community, the new units would open up smaller homes and apartments as those looking to shed yard work and home maintenance drift toward the congregate living option.

Secondly, the Waynesville Housing Authority is in the middle of a transformation. The group formed to address affordable housing needs in the community hasn’t built any new development since the Waynesville Towers was constructed about 50 years ago.

Waynesville Mayor Gavin Brown is empowered to appoint the housing authority board members, and he has taken steps to increase board numbers and add new members under the directive it is time to start building another project.

The board has indicated it has a laser focus on the new directive, so that, too, should increase the number of low-income rentals in the community.

A third sign of hope is the new affordable housing initiative being undertaken by a local nonprofit, Mountain Projects, Inc.

While the solutions might not be immediate, there is hope for change in a year or two.

Meanwhile, those suggesting leaders need to pick a side on the private property rights issue need to decide if such a stand needs to be unilateral. Right now, such efforts could well be interpreted as selectively picking sides, which is never a good way to govern.

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