After an hours-long public hearing and meeting Tuesday, the James City County Board of Supervisors voted to delay a vote on an application for a 126-unit affordable housing complex in Toano.
Supervisors voted 4-1 to table a rezoning request and height limitation waiver by Connelly Development LLC to build Oakland Pointe Apartments on a parcel at 7581 Richmond Road.
The vote will give the developer time to consider whether they are willing to reduce the 126-unit density to mitigate possible impacts to schools, county resources and traffic, issues both supervisors and residents cited as concerns.
“This is something that we need. The scale is negotiable,” said board Chairman Jim Icenhour.
The vote will now be on Feb. 26 at the board’s monthly work session. Supervisor Michael Hipple voted against tabling the resolution after voicing his support for filling the need for affordable housing.
“This is exactly what the board of supervisors and what all our focus groups and what all our citizens that we’re hearing from… as far as affordable housing, is what we’ve been looking for,” Hipple said.
“The thing that worries me the most is ‘Not in my backyard,’” Hipple added, referring to some of the project’s opposition.
Since first proposed in 2017, the development has received both support and opposition. Much of the opposition came from residents of Oakland Estates, a neighborhood behind the 7581 Richmond Road parcel.
Tuesday’s discussion on the application came about two months after the Planning Commission voted to recommend approval of the project.
A majority of the audience, which reached about 100 people at Tuesday’s meeting, was in favor of the project, standing together at one point to demonstrate their support.
At times, the public comment turned toward social inequality, with some speakers suggesting those in opposition were trying to keep lower-income people out of their neighborhood. Some people in opposition said the affordable housing complex could increase crime.
“I know that progress is never easy,” said the Rev. Reginald Davis, pastor at the First Baptist Church of Williamsburg. “We look down through our American history; there have always been voices of dissent when it comes to progress… but somehow America made its way to progress anyhow.”
While a majority of the crowd was in favor of the project, about half of Tuesday’s speakers were in opposition of the project. Thirty-six people signed up to speak.
“The people that want to build this, I applaud them,” said resident Jack Fowler. “We need more affordable housing… It’s the right reason, but the wrong place and the wrong time.”
Several public speakers said they were concerned the traffic impacts at the Croaker-Richmond roads intersection and other two-lane roads that connect to area highways. An updated report from planning staff states the complex could generate 912 daily trips in addition to current traffic levels — a 2.4 percent increase to a nearby intersection’s total traffic.
“I understand entirely the concerns,” Supervisor John McGlennon said of the traffic concerns.
The project includes a legal and binding easement with the developer agreeing to begin off-site traffic improvements prior to on-site work, including clearing and landscaping.
Some residents said they do not believe affordable housing should be located in rural lands.
A James City County Planning Department report indicated the apartment complex could have a $463,425 annual negative fiscal impact because of its drain on county resources, such as area schools.
But that number has been disputed.
Timothy Trant, the attorney representing Connelly Development, said the developer’s independent fiscal analysis estimates once the project costs stabilize five years in, it will have a “modest” negative impact.
The independent analysis sets that around $124,325, versus the county’s $463,425 estimate.
Some residents said building the complex would work in opposition of an effort to keep James City County rural.
How it works
Several residents in support of the project said affordable housing needs to be more prevalent and available in James City County. The county created a task force several years ago to tackle the issue.
Oakland Pointe’s developer, Connelly Development, is a South Carolina-based company that specializes in affordable housing.
The property owners, Arch and Lisa Marston, chose Connelly Development for its “proven track record,” Trant said.
All 126 units would be priced “affordably” per income guidelines designated under the tax credit program and open to residents including police, firefighters and teachers.
“Once you become a part of a community, it’s yours,” said Edith “Cookie” Heard. “You want to take care of it.”
Oakland Pointe seeks low-income housing tax credits offered by the federal government. The tax credit program doesn’t provide housing subsidies, but instead creates tax incentives encouraging developers to build affordable housing.
State-run agencies give a limited number of tax credits to eligible developers, then after the developers receive those credits, they sell them to investors, creating a cash equity to build housing, according to the National Housing Law Project.
Under the tax credit program, developers rent the housing at an “affordable” price below market, with a certain percentage of tenants below the area median income. Every resident in the apartment needs to be on the lease and qualified for the affordable income restrictions.
Connelly has applied for the tax credits, but they have not been awarded or secured at this time.
“I wouldn’t have spent the level of money we have today,” if it wasn’t feasible to secure the tax credits, said T. Kevin Connelly, owner of the development company.
Connelly said he has spent more than $300,000 on the project so far.