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Philippi residents voice concerns over housing project

by James Fisher

REGIONAL WRITER

PHILIPPI -- About 30 people attended a public meeting at Philippi City Hall Monday night to discuss a proposed low-income housing development in North Philippi.

Several residents spoke out against the planned development, a 49-apartment project that would cater to working -- but low-income -- families. The project is being proposed by Opportunity Builders Inc., a Salinas, Calif.-based non-profit company.

"I'm not opposed to low-income housing, but I think the area that you're putting it in is a bad situation," said Woody Menear, a North Philippi resident.

Menear and several other area residents questioned the economic impact of the project on property values, the effect on basic infrastructure and increased traffic flow in the area.

Opportunity Builders spokesman Matt Thomas said he believes the project would be an asset to the area. He also said the company already has devoted considerable time and money to the project, prompting one resident to question why the project has been allowed to go forward with unresolved issues.

"Why would city council allow them to proceed as far as they have without addressing the water and sewer problems?" said Jo Loudin, who lives adjacent to the proposed development.

Mayor Caton Hill refused to comment, saying the building permit application still was pending before council.

Dot Hayhurst, a member of the planning commission and North Philippi resident, said she was surprised when she saw plans for the development this summer. Hayhurst said planning for the development began in 1998 and she did not realize the company wanted to build such a large project.

Thomas said the proposal calls for developing 4-5 acres of a 27 acre plot that Opportunity Builders owns in North Philippi.

Despite the fact that the company has been planning the project for more than two years, Hayhurst said the first time she saw any actual drawings was this summer.

"When we talked about multi-family housing, I thought it was duplexes or condominiums. I never thought it was going to be a project of this magnitude," she said. "I'm concerned about what this will do to the property values, the traffic is concern and I'm also concerned about the high density of population in North Philippi."

Opportunity Builders also is constructing a similar complex in Buckhannon, called Cambridge Heights, which should be open to renters by late December.

Earlier this year, opposition to the construction was raised in Buckhannon by members of the Upshur County Landlords Association. The city's late mayor, Elizabeth Poundstone, ruled at the time that because the company had filed all the proper permits and paid the fees, the construction could not be blocked.

Thomas said other Opportunity Builders developments also were protested, but residents soon came to realize that the projects were good for the community.

"I see it as an educational process," he said. "People hear low-income housing and a certain image comes to mind. People just don't realize what we're trying to do. I appreciate their concerns, but this is something I wouldn't mind having in my own back yard."

Both projects are planned as a series of two-story apartments, a community building that includes a computer center for residents and their children, and an on-site manager. Renters who meet income qualifications have a set monthly rent that does not change as income increases, Thomas said. The developments are intended to create the opportunity for renters to save enough money to become homeowners some day, not to be permanent homes, he said.

Rents remain low because of a property tax trading system Opportunity uses, rather than federal subsidizing such as Section 8. The non-profit company, which does not pay property tax, receives federal property tax credits for constructing low-cost housing. The credits are sold to for-profit businesses, creating cash flow for Opportunity.

Regional writer James Fisher can be reached at 626-1446 or by e-mail at jfisher@exponent-telegram.com

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