Asheville – At the last meeting of the Buncombe County Commissioners, Sarah Odio, from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Government’s Development Finance Initiative (DFI), provided an update on the process of selecting which county-owned lands will become future sites of affordable housing projects. DFI is also developing a master plan for the county’s property on Ferry Road.
Odio said the current study only concerned a “high-level, pre-development feasibility analysis.” Of future phases of the process, she said, “We always say that our work is not meant to be a report that you leave on your desk. We will get you a partner. We will get you shovels in the ground.”
Odio said her work focused on Low-Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTCs) because that was the greatest source of funding for affordable housing projects in the state and in the country. She expected the county, in the future, would use the tax credits to build 80 units each year.
Even with the tax credits, though, developers will have to cobble together loans. After that, Odio expected there would still be a “funding gap,” which she wanted the commissioners to expect to come from the county’s coffers.
One site under consideration was 50 and 52 Coxe Avenue. Combined, the parcels could support 120 units of affordable housing with a per-unit funding gap of $60,000. Odio said if the county wanted to close Sawyer Street, a project could be developed with enough parking and density to qualify for LIHTCs. A conversation on the feasibility of connecting parcels via pedestrian bridges then ensued.
The combination of parcels at 94 and 96 Coxe Avenue was deemed unacceptable because it was too narrow, too topographically challenging, and subject to historic preservation requirements. Odio, however, saw potential for a “pretty big, pretty cool site” should the county elect to close Sawyer Street.
The property that houses the Family Justice Center, 35 Woodfin, could be converted into 48 units of affordable housing and qualify for LIHTCs without a funding gap. Odio, however, said the property was too small and the market could build more with less. There would be more potential should the county decide to surrender the whole 3-acre complex.
Lastly, 24–46 Valley Street will be encumbered to some degree by reparations, but a portion of the parcel could be developed into 72 units with a per-unit funding gap of $56,000. The parcel wouldn’t qualify for 9% LIHTCs because it is next to a detention center. It would qualify for 4% LIHTCs, and Odio said efforts would be made to make sure a lot of balconies weren’t overlooking the detention center. Odio said it would be better to develop the entire parcel into 150 units with surface parking and a $51,000 per-unit funding gap.
These parcels are appraised at $1.8-$2.2 million per acre, a price Odio said is not going to be touched by private developers of affordable housing. Another option would be to build on county land outside the city. One parcel in Erwin Hills could provide 160 units with a per-unit funding gap of $4.2-$7.6 million.
In other matters
Following Odio’s presentation, the county’s Planning Director Nate Pennington set the commissioners up to recommend holding a public hearing on a moratorium on crypto mining. Chair Brownie Newman introduced the agenda item as follows: “I’m excited that we have crypto on our agenda. Finally. It’s something related to crypto. It sounds really edgy.”
Pennington explained the matter was coming before the commissioners as planning concerns related to emergent technologies often do. This time, crypto mining is raising concerns, first because the use is not explicitly encoded in zonings and, second, because the facilities pose multiple externalities.
For those who, as Newman claimed he did, knew nothing about crypto mining, it was explained that the mines, or “farms,” consist of several servers that work on solving equations needed to “verify” Bitcoin and other electronic currencies and bring them into circulation.
Pennington told the commissioners the planning department had received no applications for crypto farms yet. And, fortunately, the mines are generally built in cooler climates, near water, on inexpensive, flat, developable land, which is in short supply in Buncombe County.
Pennington said if the commissioners did nothing, the farms could be built in commercially zoned areas with allowances for warehouse-type structures. If they imposed a one-year moratorium, it would buy time for staff to develop standards, which might include design features and requirements for noise abatement.
The moratorium, which the commissioners preferred, was allowed by state statute. It would likely not go into effect until at least April, as staff must formulate proper language, run it by the commissioners, and then have them approve it in a public hearing, which requires two weeks’ notice.
Pennington said there had been at least one moratorium enacted on crypto mines in the state. In another jurisdiction, a data mining outfit built a facility in a series of cargo containers. Commissioner Terri Wells added the locals were of the opinion the facility had been the cause of rolling blackouts as well. Wells said the county should look into regulating noise, e-waste, and water pollution, all of which have been associated with crypto farms.
Commissioner Parker Sloan said he had heard the crypto mine in Franklinton was fueled by burning tires. Pennington hadn’t heard about it, but first wondered how it would have obtained an air quality permit. He said he would have to return and report. As it turns out, the facility decomposes tires instead of combusting them, and it has had a clean air permit since 2020.