Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Packed House for Housing Project Public Hearing - Decision Affects Residents and the Gain or Loss of FEMA Grant Funds

The boardroom at the Louisville City Hall was packed on Tuesday
night (Sept 23) for a public hearing related to a proposed residential housing project that could yield approximately $2 million for the coffers of the City of Louisville.

The proposal would require the sale of the Academy Park property
in the southeast area of Louisville by the City. The property would then be used for the development of 35 single family homes in a managed subdivision and a smaller public park area.

The properties would be 2,3 and 4 bedroom - 2 bath brick homes with underground utilities, curb and guttering, inclusive grounds maintenance and a clubhouse with exercise and playground areas.

The homes would not be part of HUD development or subject to section 8 housing requirements but would be built under a tax credit program with the Mississippi Home Corporation.

Tenants would pay monthly rent on the properties and after 15 years, the properties would be available for sale. Tenants would be able to apply their previous rent payments to the purchase price of the home.

The proceeds from the sale of the Academy Park property and insurance proceeds from damage resulting from the April tornado could be used as "seed money" or matching funds to receive grants from FEMA and MEMA. The grant funds would only be available if the City sold the existing park property for the development. Building the development on private land would not yield the possible grant funds that the City seeks to improve recreational facilities at other areas such as Ivy Park.

Mayor Will Hill provided details on the proposal and noted that the April 28th tornado changed the community forever but provided some unique funding opportunities. Hill noted that damage assessment at the Park, the huge need for housing solutions, the high maintenance requirements of  Park and the funding opportunities made available after the tornado led to a discussion of this proposal.
Academy Park was closed a week prior to the April 28 storm due to vandalism and Hill stated that many did not realize the magnitude of maintenance costs associated with the property that has been closed 3 times in the past 4 years.

The Mayor noted that there would still be a City owned park at the entrance of the development that would include a playground with a rubberized surface, 2 basketball courts, a pavillion and an outdoor workout station.

Hill stated that a specific plan for the use of any funds generated had not been completed but that a goal would be to enhance Ivy Park and the sportsplex to make Louisville more attractive for ball tournaments and events and as a recruitment tool to enhance quality of life for our residents.

Board of Aldermen members raised some questions about the proposal but were predominantly interested in hearing from the public on the matter. Alderwoman Gwenita Mays said, "I need to hear from the community. The biggest obstacle is adapting to change but I want to make a decision that is beneficial to everybody."

More than 15 members of the public, the majority of which lived in the immediate area, addressed the Board with overwhelmingly negative comments.

Much of the concern related to traffic issues, narrow streets and only one access to the property. Others expressed concern about the loss of the existing park and the history associated with it.

Much discussion centered around vandalism and a skepticism that a housing development would improve that situation. Stated one area resident, "If they vandalize the Park why wouldn't they vandalize houses? Find another area."

Still other expressed concern that over time, the development could turn into HUD subsidized housing.

Several members of the public raised the issue of finding another location for the development. Mayor Hill noted that a "Plan B" was considered but that the public needed to understand that this was the only city owned property of sufficient size and that would provide the FEMA funding. Without development at this location, the City would be in effect be rejecting the opportunity for nearly $2 million dollars in grant money.

The hour and half meeting ended as the Board of Aldermen recessed until 5:30 pm on September 25 to discuss and take a possible vote on the issue.

Drawings , photos and plans are available for viewing at the Louisville City Hall and the public is invited to provide written comments or discuss the issue with their elected officials. wwm