Real Estate News

Potential development rules changes to bring more affordable housing to Bluffton

There are some in Blufton who think the town has become too expensive for low and middle-income residents.

Town officials are considering changes to regulations that might change some minds.

Town staff released a draft of potential changes to Unified Development Ordinance last week designed to encourage builders to build more affordable houses and make sure it's done in a responsible way.

One potential change to the code requires the houses to be built using the same standards and exterior construction materials as market-rate units.

That would ensure families who buy and rent these units are living in homes of the same quality as their neighbors.

Another proposal would require the houses to be spread throughout a development "and not clustered together or segregated in any way from the market-rate units," according to the draft document.

"That's basically to make sure that the units are not in one particular pocket of the development," Kendra Lelie, the town's assistant director of growth management, said earlier this week.

To spur construction, the code changes would set up a system of incentives -- known as density bonuses -- that allow developers to squeeze more houses on to smaller lots if a certain percentage of them are affordably priced.

It establishes "a sliding scale" in which "the more (affordable) units you provide, the higher the density bonus," Lelie said.

At the low end of that scale, developers who pledge to make at least 21 percent of new units affordable for low-income residents would be allowed to squeeze 35 percent more units onto a parcel than they would if all the units were market-rate.

If at least 91 percent of units are affordable, developers would be able to build twice as many homes.

These bonuses allow developers to recoup some of the revenue they may miss by renting or selling units for lower than market rates.

While Affordable Housing Committee members councilwoman Karen Lavery and councilman Fred Hamilton voiced support earlier this week for most of the proposals, they disagreed on one.

The amended UDO would require affordable housing developments to meet standard design guidelines in regard to elements such as landscaping and open space.

"Affordable housing ... is slowly drifting away," Hamilton said.

And requiring builders to meet the same design and open space standards as market-rate developments is "another obstacle for a developers to hurdle," he said.

Lavery countered, saying she doesn't "want to see a cluster of homes all crunched in without some type of landscape (or open space)."

"I do want to keep some form of restrictions in there so (new developments that include affordable units) don't just look like a big old mess," she said.

Lelie suggested a compromise that allows town officials to waive requirements in certain cases.

The full council will have the opportunity to chime in on the proposed code amendments during a workshop in January.

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