Bluffton won't set Wharf Street home prices for weeks

cconley@islandpacket.comApril 27, 2012 

Pictured are the homes on Wharf Street that are part of the Town of Bluffton's redevelopment project.

FILE, THE ISLAND PACKET

Curious how much homes in Bluffton's Wharf Street development will cost? You're not alone.

Town officials say it could be another two months before they set asking prices for homes in the development, leaving everyone from town council to the 60 applicants in the dark.

"We have an idea of where they are going to be, but it's not a set-in-stone number," Mayor Lisa Sulka said Friday.

Among the factors that go into setting the price are the total development cost, appraised value, median home prices in Beaufort County and the amount prospective buyers can expect to borrow from a lender, according to the town's affordable housing "Standard Operating Procedures."

"The town is in the process of finding an appraiser to determine the fair market value of the homes," said Danny Wilson, a Bluffton town planner, in a written statement.

There are plenty of reasons why the town might wait to finalize prices, including market fluctuation, said Julie Prater, deputy director of Columbia Housing Authority. But she said people need that information when deciding whether to apply.

"Most people who are in the market for affordable housing need to have some idea what size mortgage they are going to need to qualify for," she said.

The delay is giving fuel to critics of the project, many of whom have argued that the town was ill-equipped to take it on.

"The whole project is not being done right," said Don Blair, a Planning Commission member and retired architect and community planner. "Staff from the town shouldn't be doing it. The town shouldn't be in the construction business. They don't know anything about it."

The six houses range from 330 square feet to nearly 1,200 square feet and cost about $1.2 million to develop. Funding came from a federal housing grant, stimulus funds and $25,000 in town money.

Angela Childers, operations officer for Beaufort Housing Authority, which helps oversee the Wharf Street project, says strings attached by funding sources might also be a factor in the ultimate prices.

"Once you start mingling federal programs, everything gets very convoluted," she said.

Income restrictions are also expected to play a role in setting the final price. Eligible applicants can't earn more than 80 percent of the county's median income, which ranges from $39,100 a year for one person to $64,800 for a family of six -- the largest household eligible for Wharf Street homes.

Consultants hired by the town explained last year that the most the town could sell the homes for while still satisfying grant requirements ranges from $115,800 to a single person to $191,850 to a family of six.

Sulka says the town would "absolutely" love to know how much the homes will cost, adding that a final price would probably attract more interest. She says the town is following all the necessary protocols required by state and federal authorities.

"We do know what we are doing. I don't want it to look like we are just floundering," she said.

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