Does Farmville need affordable housing? Rezoning question raised

Published 5:28 am Thursday, June 29, 2023

FARMVILLE – How should Farmville handle affordable housing requests? Is affordable housing needed? What’s the best way to manage the town’s growing needs with those of existing residents? Throughout this year, those are questions the town’s planning commission and council have discussed. They were raised again in the Wednesday, June 21 planning commission meeting, as the group weighed a property owner’s rezoning request. 

The issue involves a property in the 300 block of Merlwood Farm Road, owned by Harper Associates. The company wants to rezone two parcels, to turn them into a residential community of about 140 units. Now these would be roughly split 50/50 between townhomes and single family houses. That last part, the 140 homes, is the issue for some residents. They bought property in a low density residential area. We’re talking single family houses, in more of a suburban development. Low density only allows single family homes, nothing else. 

The request before the planning commission was to change these two parcels on Merlwood Farm Road from low density residential to medium density. Instead of just the single homes, it allows things like townhouses and apartments. Supporters of the project see other benefits as well. 

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“It would allow for the construction of more affordable housing units,” said Kip Lafoon from Lafoon Realty. He wrote his thoughts in a letter sent to the commission. “Current zoning only allows for single family homes with estate sized lots, which are often out of reach for many people or undesirable for many people. The (medium density) zoning would allow for construction of a variety of home types and smaller lot sizes, which would provide a diversity of housing options. It would also add much needed housing inventory to the area and will help employers attract employees.” 

Cost burdened vs. affordable housing

Affordable housing has been part of the discussion throughout the year in Farmville. People are less likely to move into an area or stay if they’ll be cost burdened to live there. That’s according to a Dec. 2022 study from the U.S. Census Bureau. The Census staff defines cost burdened as someone who has to pay more than 30% of their income for housing.

The problem for Farmville is that 22% of its current homeowners are cost burdened, according to that same Census study. The percentage jumps even higher when you start talking about renters. An estimated 44.8% of renters in the area fall under that label. Neither of those labels are beneficial when trying to attract new residents. 

A project like the one on Merlwood Farm Road could help ease the burden, Lafoon and other supporters argue. On the other hand, existing residents are concerned that their neighborhood could change into something they don’t want. 

By the numbers 

The issue with rezoning for some residents is what’s allowed. In a low density neighborhood, there can only be up to four homes per acre. Moderate density, which is what the rezoning request is for, allows up to 10 per acre. 

David Davino and his family moved to Farmville in July 2021, looking for a smaller, quiet neighborhood. He told the commission if the property gets rezoned, he’s afraid they’ll see increased noise, increased traffic and less privacy. He also cautioned that while studies might say there won’t be an impact on traffic, that “doesn’t mean there will be no impact on traffic at all or what the residents would consider a significant impact on traffic,” he said. 

They represent a growing number of people, who want to avoid noisy city life for the suburbs. According to a 2021 Pew Research study, 46% of of those polled prefer a suburban or rural life, saying they moved recently to get away from the city. That’s up from 42% pre-pandemic. On the other hand, that same study spotlights the affordable housing problem. Out of the 9,676 polled, 49% said the availability of affordable housing is a problem, both where they came from and where they moved to. That’s up from 39% in 2018.

Vote goes through 

Commission member Rhett Weiss asked Harper Associates representative Will Allen if the company would consider putting a cap on the number of homes on the property, below the maximum allowed by a moderate density area. The commission can’t require a change like that under Farmville’s rules, it has to come from the applicant. 

Allen said he wouldn’t be able to agree to that, but the company does understand things like an enhanced buffer will be needed, between this property and others in the area. That alone will reduce the number of homes they can build. 

The commission voted 6-1, with Weiss in opposition, to send the request over to the Farmville Town Council for a hearing and final vote.