An affordable housing complex slated for the current location of the Pinney Library is meeting a mixed reaction from neighbors. While some see the merits of the project, there are concerns about its size, as well as questions about the intended population: low-income tenants.
The apartment complex, The Grove, would be located at 204 Cottage Grove Road, the site of Pinney Library. The project wouldn’t begin until after the library is vacated, with construction scheduled to start in early 2019 and completed by March 2020.
MSP Real Estate is the developer of the $23 million project. Two buildings on the site would hold 129 apartments, 109 of which would be affordable.
A five-story building on Cottage Grove Road would have 53 units and about 2,000 to 3,000 feet of first-floor commercial space. Another 73-unit building to the north would be a four- and three-story building, to minimize height near the adjacent single-family home neighborhood.
The project recently received $3 million from the city’s Affordable Housing Fund, an initiative created in 2014 to bring more affordable apartments to the city. The project is also in the process of applying for Section 42 federal tax credits, but won’t find out if it has received them until early next year.
The majority of the units will be rented at 30, 50 and 60 percent of county median income. An individual making 30 percent of county median income would earn $17,910 a year. A family of three at 30 percent of county median income would earn $23,010 a year.
The lowest-income apartments would be supportive service units, meaning tenants would be able to access services from Madison-area Urban Ministry, Porchlight and the Community Action Coalition.
Those nonprofits will refer veterans, the homeless or nearly homeless and those experiencing reentry from prison or jail to The Grove, and provide a range of follow-up supportive services for them. Initially, only three units will be slated for prison reentry individuals, the application says.
Residents have voiced concerns about the tenants in the low-income apartments, as well as the height and size of the five-story building.
The size concerns are not surprising, according to Ald. David Ahrens. The neighborhood participated in the city’s planning process for Cottage Grove Road “activity centers” earlier this year, and Ahrens said multi-story buildings were “raised as a negative and a concern.”
The city’s notes on those meetings say that while some citizens were interested in new urban mixed-use development of four or five stories, other residents said there should be no development above two or three stories.
Jenn Jackson is a resident of the Eastmorland neighborhood, and she’s concerned about the precedent set by a five-story building so close to single-story homes.
She also said that some residents are upset that although the city knew about The Grove proposal in mid-June, they didn’t disclose that at the July planning meeting, Jackson said.
Ahrens said in an email that, “developers file plans and meet with planners all the time,” but they don’t always become a reality, and The Grove still needs to attain federal tax credits.
“Any number of things happen and they drop those plans: they find that they can’t get financing, they find the whole approval process difficult and unwieldy, they find other projects, etc.,” he wrote.
At a neighborhood meeting about the project last Thursday, residents expressed concerns about the size, parking and traffic. In addition, a smaller contingent of residents were concerned about a low-income population moving into the neighborhood, Ahrens said.
Ahrens dismissed the worries as negative stigma associated with low-income populations, but also as a misunderstanding of the project. People assumed the whole building was targeted at very-low income individuals, but it’s actually for a range of incomes, he said. The income range means a good portion of residents in Eastmorland and Lake Edge, the two nearby neighborhoods, would qualify for the apartments.
Ahrens noted that those who seemed opposed to an influx of low-income tenants represented a clear minority of residents in the area.
Jackson said some of the discussion at the meeting was around whether low-income residents would "have the support they deserve" in the neighborhood. Jackson said she is “extremely interested” in working with the developer to welcome low-income tenants to the neighborhood, and believes that MSP would address any issues with tenants.
Kathy Soukup, president of the Eastmorland Community Association, said feedback has been “up and down,” and varies depending on how close people live to the proposed development. She said that some people are “really nervous” about the potential influx of low-income tenants.
Mark Hammond, director of development and general counsel for MSP, was also at the neighborhood meeting. MSP has built other affordable housing projects, and he said that neighborhoods are usually sensitive about adding more housing units in the neighborhood.
“When there’s a lack of familiarity with affordable housing and how it works, folks kind of assume the worst. Once the project is up and built, the neighborhood kind of sees it as part of neighborhood. They see some of their concerns weren’t founded,” he said.
Hammond said MSP would likely submit plans to the city in November, in hopes of appearing before the Plan Commission in January or February.
“We’re just excited about it, it’s really a great location for affordable housing,” he said.