08/09/09 — Developer pulls Rosewood project

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Developer pulls Rosewood project

By Steve Herring
Published in News on August 9, 2009 2:00 AM

A state agency has accomplished what a firestorm of public outcry was unable to do -- sound the death knell for a controversial low-rent housing project in the Rosewood community.

"We did not get funding," Goldsboro developer John T. Bell said Friday morning. "(The state) funded more than I was told. It was still less than I would say is normal.

"My next step is nothing. We are done."

Bell, not the county commissioner, had applied to the N.C. Housing Finance Agency, acting as administrative agent for the N.C. Federal Tax Reform Allocation Committee, for federal tax credits on the $2 million to $3 million project.

He learned late Thursday that his application had not been approved.

Bell said the project's proposed location had scored the lowest of any part of his application.

The state, he said, did not like the site.

"They don't tell you why they scored it," he said. "Used to, you could appeal, but you can no longer do that. I don't know why, only that it is over. The project is dead."

Bell said he knew people would be glad to hear the project had been pulled.

Bell had appeared before commissioners in February to ask for their endorsement of his plan to build 36 units of low-income to market value housing just off U.S. 70 at Rosewood behind the Second Fling Consignment Shop.

He had wanted the board to sign off on his application to the state Division of Community Assistance for a $250,000 Community Development Block Grant to help finance the project.

The project required a letter of interest from the county since the Division of Community Assistance guidelines specify its financial assistance is available only to units of local government.

The county would have loaned the $250,000 to Bell, who would have repaid it over a 20-year period at 2 percent interest.

The county would have retained the repaid loan and interest.

"It would have been a win-win situation for the county," Bell said Friday.

Commissioners referred the project to the Planning Board for review since it would have required the use of septic tanks in an area where sewer lines would be preferred. The Health Department had given preliminary approval for the use of septic tanks, Bell said.

There is no zoning in the area, and commissioners at that time said they also wanted to ensure the project met requirements of the county's comprehensive land use plan.

The request was never heard by the Planning Board.

Bell pulled the item from the Planning Board agenda because of the brewing controversy. Close to 100 people had been outside waiting to enter the county Administrative Building to attend the Planning Board meeting

He tried a second time to convince commissioners to support the project.

At times, Bell was almost shouted down by opponents as he attempted to more fully explain the project to commissioners in March. He and his associates left by a back door rather than wade through a standing room only crowd of opponents.

Commissioners, noting that the project had been referred to the Planning Board, took no action.

Opponents argued that the project would depress property values, overcrowd schools and possibly cause an increase in crime.

Residents said they worried that people from surrounding counties could apply for one of the units, including people who have been "kicked out" of similar housing.

Bell countered that applicants would have to undergo a criminal background check and that there would be on-site management as well.

The item was never added back to the Planning Board agenda and in May Bell contacted County Manager Lee Smith and withdrew his request for board support.

However, he continued with the project in hopes of securing the federal tax credits.