Lingering concerns over affordable housing and overcrowded schools turned otherwise routine development proposals into larger conversations for Fredericksburg City Council members Tuesday.
The developers for the two separate projects saw their proposals pass unanimously. But before they cast their favorable votes, council members felt compelled to respond to the impact extra townhouses for one project could have on student populations and how apartment rents over $1,000 for a separate project could be classified as affordable.
Local developer Tommy Mitchell received approval to add six apartments to his mixed-use project on the corner of Hanover and Sophia streets. The increase from 18 to 24 units made the long-standing proposal more “economically feasible,” Mitchell said.
Four of the added six units would be deemed “affordable,” with a lower rent offered to those making 50 percent of the area median income.
The affordable monthly rents translated to $1,026 for an efficiency unit, $1,099 for a one-bedroom unit and $1,318 for a two-bedroom.
“There’s a lot of folks that have been approaching us about affordable housing, and I just want folks to understand that this is what we are getting for affordable housing. We have no control about what the rates are,” Councilman Charlie Frye said.
Fredericksburg is considered part of the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Statistical Area, which helps determine area median income.
Councilman Matt Kelly talked about the differences between Fredericksburg and Northern Virginia localities within the statistical area, and called for a city investment in affordable housing, such as potentially waiving fees.
Last year, the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s 2018 Out of Reach Report found that renters in Stafford and Spotsylvania counties, as well as Fredericksburg, need to make $62,440 annually to be able to afford the rent—along with other average living expenses—on a one-bedroom apartment.
That means someone would have to earn an hourly wage of $30.02 to be able to afford rent each month. A worker earning the state minimum wage of $7.25 would have to work 166 hours each week to make ends meet.
Mitchell said he hoped the added units would encourage a Richmond developer to support the project. If that developer backs out, Mitchell said he would complete the project himself.
Mitchell’s proposal, known as the Hanover One site, involves a five-story building at 106 and 108 Hanover St., and 718 Sophia St. It would have ground-floor parking, two 1,500-square-foot retail spaces and 18 condos. The two-story warehouse at 718 Sophia St., which was built in the 1920s, was razed. It had been deemed unsafe by an engineer.
Council members also approved local developer Carl Braun’s proposed townhouse development known as Highlander Park. But before approving the preliminary subdivision plat, the elected leaders responded to a parent’s question: where would you put the children from this development?
The question stemmed from a Feb. 13 meeting in which Fredericksburg parents lambasted school leaders for a controversial plan to ease overcrowding. Some felt the plan was a Band-Aid on a larger need for a new school.
At the Tuesday council meeting, a handful of parents in the audience wearing orange smiled and nodded when one man told council members that Fredericksburg parents are watching them and their decisions when it comes to more growth.
Councilmen Kelly and Frye said the Highlander Park development is by-right, meaning it doesn’t require an exception to zoning rules because council members designated that land for that type of use.
“We are a very strong property rights state,” Kelly said.
Kelly added that school overcrowding is an ongoing issue that the city will have to grapple with.