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Old town affordable housing plan advances

This rendering is one of the six units of affordable housing to be built in Bluffton’s Old Town District as part of the Wharf Street Redevelopment Project.
This rendering is one of the six units of affordable housing to be built in Bluffton’s Old Town District as part of the Wharf Street Redevelopment Project.

The state approved the cost of six affordable housing units to be built in the Bluffton's old town in early September, but the town still must work out details of its partnership with Hilton Head Regional Habitat for Humanity before breaking ground.

The town must also give the state Housing Finance and Development Authority more information on how it will use a $727,940 Neighborhood Stabilization Program grant before it can be reimbursed.

"The approval of the cost estimates was our biggest hurdle," said Marc Orlando, assistant town manager for the Department of Growth Management. "The next milestone is getting state approval on reimbursement so we can move forward to acquire the property and know that we will be completely reimbursed on the cost."

The town and Habitat for Humanity must decide when construction will start and how much Habitat should contribute to the $1 million project, which Orlando said he expects to work out within a week.

Habitat for Humanity must also be approved as a developer, in accordance with Neighborhood Stabilization Program rules, which executive director Patricia Wirth described as a formality. Orlando said he expects approval to come within the week.

As for fundraising, Wirth said her organization was in the middle of its annual campaign to solicit donors, but the donations won't actually arrive until Jan. 1.

According to terms of the grant, the project must be completed by May 15, 2011.

The six houses, which will be located on the corner of Wharf and Robertson streets, will be modular units -- meaning pieces will be built in a factory and transported to the site.

Orlando and his team redesigned the units to meet old town district codes after the Historical Preservation Committee voted against the project in January. The final draft of the units include front porches and shutters, as well as landscaping features such as a vegetable garden. The cottages range in size from 408 square feet to 1,391 square feet, with costs for each unit ranging from $119,616 to $220,846.

Orlando unveiled a rendering of the houses by local artist Ashley Hahn at Thursday's monthly meeting of the town's affordable housing subcommittee. Councilman Michael Raymond, who attended, said the images should allay any concerns about situating the project in old town, especially because two blighted structures on Wharf Street will be demolished to make room for them.

"People have a vision of affordable housing as ugly government projects using things like cinder blocks," Raymond said. "This is a huge upgrade from those two buildings -- they're eyesores."

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