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Affordable housing? Developer says apartments with $2K rent could be for workforce

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Hilton Head Christian Academy gets their site plan approved by Town of Bluffton for new school campus.

A developer seeking rezoning for 300 apartments on the Hilton Head Christian Academy campus faced a new round of questions by the public planning committee Monday — one day before the proposal comes in front of Hilton Head Town Council for a second time.

The session was for the development firm to respond to 20 questions submitted by council members about the project, ranging from drainage and height concerns to the future of Hilton Head’s availability of workforce housing, which the council said it wants to see at the site.

The apartments are set to cost between $1,200 and $2,400 each month.

“We are confident (this project) fits the needs of Hilton Head, and a lot of your questions are forward-looking or dependent on financial markets,” Charleston-based Spandrel Development Partners co-founder Emanuel Neuman said. “We’re in the initial stages of the development process, but there is much to be determined.”

One thing clear in the initial rundown by Neuman was that his firm has a different idea than previous assessments of what’s going to be “affordable” for people who work on Hilton Head.

After the initial plans for the apartments off Gardner Drive were made public last month, council members and residents urged the new developer to consider housing that will be more suitable for the workforce and stay consistent with Hilton Head’s brand.

On Monday, the development firm hinted at some concessions. For example:

  • Instead of 300 units as originally proposed, Neuman said the request could be lowered to 275 units for a lower density.

  • Neuman also said the building height would be 55 feet to the top of the building, instead of the 75 feet that are allowed.
  • He said the complex would have the following distribution: 35 percent studio and one-bedroom units, 50 percent two-bedroom units and 15 percent three-bedroom units.

However, he said the expected rent range has not changed. He added that the development addresses the workforce segment of the population.

“The median household income on Hilton Head Island is $70,249 a year, making a workforce income range of $42,150 to $84,299. Assuming the average American spends 33 percent of their income on rent, the Hilton Head workforce can pay $1,170 to $2,340 each month in rent,” Neuman said in his presentation to the committee and about 30 members of the public.

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A screenshot from the Assessment of Workforce Housing Needs for Hilton Head, presented by Sturtevant & Associates. The graph shows the number of units that fall in each rent category. The study defines “workforce housing” as units that rent for $875 per month or less. Assessment of Workforce Housing Needs, Sturtevant & Associates

But that’s not the segment that the town’s workforce housing consultant team, Lisa Sturtevant and Associates, identified as the workforce — although Spandrel representatives cited Sturtevant’s study.

The town’s consultant came up with the same median household income in an assessment of workforce housing needs released in November, but Sturtevant identified the range of workforce incomes in 11 different industries as between $20,850 and $51,359.

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A screenshot from the Assessment of Workforce Housing Needs for Hilton Head, presented by Sturtevant & Associates. The table shows the median incomes of 11 industries on Hilton Head. The study defines “workforce housing” as units that rent for $875 per month or less. Assessment of Workforce Housing Needs, Sturtevant & Associates

By the study’s count, only four of the 11 industries’ median wages fall within the Spandrel team’s designation of the “Hilton Head workforce.”

In addition, the study identifies affordable rent for the workforce as $875 per month, and says there is “significant need” for this type of housing on the island.

Worried neighbors in Old Woodlands

The potential neighbors of the apartment complex weren’t so happy with the developer’s answers.

Lori Maurer, a resident on Indian Trail in the Old Woodlands community, said her yard will back up to the 55-foot-tall complex where “people will be looking into my backyard and my windows and watching my grandchildren play.”

She’s also concerned about drainage from the proposed development, adding that “we get a waterfall every time there’s a heavy rain.”

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Katherine Kokal The Island Packet

About five other residents of the non-gated neighborhood shared their concerns with the development.

What’s next?

Neuman said the firm has no plans to apply for any tax credits for the project, but some town leaders said the project could be eligible for an “opportunity zone” designation, which is “an economically-distressed community where new investments, under certain conditions, may be eligible for preferential tax treatment,” according to the IRS website.

The public planning committee took no action on the application for rezoning since it comes before Hilton Head Town Council again.

On Tuesday, Neuman will again present the application with his firm’s responses to the questions submitted by council.

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Katherine Kokal moved to South Carolina in 2018 after graduating from the University of Missouri and loves everything about the Lowcountry that isn’t a Palmetto Bug. She has won South Carolina Press Association awards for in-depth and government beat reporting. On the weekends, you can find Kati doing yoga and hiking Pinckney Island.

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