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Public Opposition Stops Affordable Housing Project In Ayrsley

Public opposition once again helped stop a plan for affordable housing, this time in the Ayrsley neighborhood. One after another, Ayrsley residents stood before the city council and insisted they're not like people in Ballantyne and other neighborhoods who've raised a ruckus about plans for a new affordable housing project in their boundaries. "Ayrsley residents are not saying not in our backyard," says Shawn Widrick who owns a home in Ayrsley , a mixed-use development in southwest Charlotte. He told council members residents bought into the development knowing there was another government assisted complex nearby called "Summerfield Apartments." "We fully support the work that the CHP (Charlotte Housing Partnership) does, however we do not support this particular project," continued Widrick. "Our area is currently oversaturated with apartments and rentals." The nonprofit Charlotte Housing Partnership had come to the city council asking for permission to build 90 apartments for low-income renters less than a half mile from another subsidized housing complex. The city prohibits building new projects in such proximity, unless the council grants a waiver. Ayrsley residents like Marilyn Goodrich warned the city council that another affordable housing complex would further destabilize a neighborhood already struggling in the recession. "We are not a stable community," said Goodrich, referring to multiple apartment communities in the neighborhood that remain largely vacant. Ayrsley residents also complained that the property slated for affordable housing had long been billed as the future site of a YMCA playing field. After an hour of such comments, members of the city council were visibly upset. Edwin Peacock called the president of the Charlotte Housing Partnership, Pat Garrett, to the microphone and demanded to know why more hadn't been done to address the neighborhood's concerns. "It doesn't sound like we've even come close to bringing you all together on this," says Peacock, angrily. "Is there any compromise here? . . . What is your compelling reason as to why you think this council should waive tonight?" "I think the most compelling reason is the need," responded Garrett, calmly. "Not only is the need great, but this is a wonderful site for affordable housing." That sparked a wave of incredulous laughs from the audience full of Ayrsley residents. Garrett added the location is ideal for affordable housing because hourly jobs are plentiful in the area. The Charlotte Housing Partnership was so confident it would receive a waiver to build the project that it spent nearly $1 million buying the land before bringing the matter before city council. That turned out to be a bad bet: the council denied the waiver on a vote of six to three. (David Howard abstained because he is a vice president at the Charlotte Housing Partnership.) Ecstatic Ayrsley residents rushed out of the council chambers, patting each other's backs. The Housing Partnership's Pat Garrett followed slowly. "You know, it doesn't help to second guess what you did," she said. "We made the right decision. We thought we got a good piece of property and we're sorry that it turned out this way, but we'll continue to do affordable housing all over the community." Garrett said the Housing Partnership may have other options for developing the Ayrsley property that wouldn't require a waiver, but she wasn't sure. And the larger debate is far from over. The City Council last night gave the green light on a series of public meetings this summer as it looks to revise its policy on where affordable housing can be built.