An application to build a seniors only, affordable apartment complex along Webb Bridge Road next to GA 400 was recommended for denial by the Alpharetta Planning Commission Thursday night based on the city's limit of 15 percent rental units compared to 85 percent for sale residential homes.
Planning commissioners want the whole issue of affordable senior housing addressed by City Council, but worried about the consequences of setting a precedence on this application.
The applicant, however, was restricted by a state timetable that allows applications for the funding method through tax credits only at one time a year, starting on June 23.
That put planning commissioners in a bind, some of whom would rather have tabled the application until City Council addressed the big issue, allowing this application to possibly fall under new rules. At present, annexations have pushed the city's rental housing as 34 percent of the total number of housing units.
"If they had more time, I could have made a motion to table it until our next meeting," said Francis Kung'u, who made the motion to recommend denial. By making any recommendation, the application will be put on City Council's June 20 agenda.
That the project even came before the Planning Commission is a testament to Dorothy Benson, who helped form the committee, Fulton County Strategies for Healthier Community. About 10 years ago when it formed they were asked to pick a project.
"After looking around, seeing what seniors really need, we came up with housing was the most important thing," Benson said.
Colin Edelstein of Atlas Development said Benson was the reason his company came to Alpharetta.
Benson brought a busload of seniors to the meeting, and others made their own way. Some wanted their independence so they don't have to live with family members. Others would sell their homes and move into affordable senior housing, if there was any available in Alpharetta.
Harriett Schaefer said she's hoping to find affordable housing.
"I live with my son in law, you can imagine what that is like," she said.
Her daughter, Rochelle Cox, said her mother can't afford to live by herself.
"So I'm for this, it will get her out of my house. She is young, she's 69, so she's got a long time to live there," Cox said.
Problems identified by Community Development Director Diana Wheeler with the application included:
- The property is developable under its current zoning for office which, which may have greater demand in the future.
- The proposed 90 units would have been 13.6 units per acre, higher than anything the city normally allows.
- The location is not within a walkable community and does not have immediate access to public transportation.
- The apartment use would not be allowed under the city's comprehensive plan limits on rental property.
"If I was going to utilize one of these units, the last thing I'd want to do is get in a car and drive. I'd rather be somewhere where I can walk in a small community to go to restaurants, grocery store," Tomy said.
Benson said Fulton County started its DART bus service a few months ago. Seniors can call to be picked up at their door for trips ranging from doctor's appointments to grocery shopping.
"A lot of us do drive," she said.
Attorney Don Rolader, representing the developer, told the Planning Commission to consider the plan as a 66-unit development, which fits the maximum 10 units per acre density, answering another one of the problems.
"More than two thirds of seniors depend on Social Security," Benson said. "That number would be considered in the poverty level. This is really something that is needed."
Parc Alpharetta has set aside 20 percent of its units as affordable senior housing, but Benson said the monthly rent is higher at $800 to $850, "not quite affordable as we want." All of those units are full, and there's a waiting list, she said.
"The only way that you can get one now is if somebody dies. We don't want to be sitting here wishing somebody dies so that we can get an apartment," Benson said.
Paul Barrow of Alpharetta was one of only two speakers who brought concerns to the Planning Commission. He wanted to know what guarantees does the city have on the developer's commitment to keeping the senior housing complex operating.
Edelstein said the tax credit has requirements, including keeping the facility as affordable senior housing for 30 years. It would be age restricted to those 62 and older.
Tom Miller, another Alpharetta resident, questioned the location near a major highway and a data center, and far from any church, synagogue or shopping.
"Perhaps it's a poor location and our seniors deserve better," Miller said.
He wanted guarantees by the developer that the proposed amenities for the complex would be provided.
"We all know about developer's promises, and they are worthless if they aren't in conditions," he said.
Edelstein said he'd agree to having the full list of amenities, which includes an indoor pool and fitness center, in the conditions.
Planning Commissioner Kyle Caswell said the rental vs. for sale residential property ratios suggest that any apartment development would have to wait at least 20 years to be built.
"The rations seem to indicated 21,000 new homes need to be built before any apartments for rent can be built," said Caswell.
Wheeler agreed that those projected figures are approximations of what might become true.
"I just want to be clear, for some people, maybe not even in their lifetimes, an apartment might not be built in their city within these years," Caswell said.