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Sylva officials consider zoning amendments for micro-school, multifamily housing

By Kristin Fox

At this month’s regular meeting of the Town of Sylva Board of Commissioners, two public hearings were held to consider zoning map amendment requests. The two requests were from Solstice Partners, LLC for a multifamily housing project and CJ Properties for a micro-school. Following the two public hearings, the board voted unanimously to approve both zoning amendment requests.

The first zoning amendment request was from Catherine Conners and Gary Ellis with Solstice Partners, Inc. to rezone 6.83 acres of vacant land on Savannah Drive, Sylva from general business district to conditional district. The zoning change to conditional district would allow Solstice Partners to move forward with a 48-unit multifamily project proposed for the property. 

The proposed multifamily residential development includes three two-story structures consisting of 8 one-bedroom units, 28 two-bedroom units and 12 three-bedroom units for 48 total units. Included amenities in the development are a community center with laundry, computer center, playgrounds and cover picnic shelter with tables/grills.

Developers believe the proposed housing project would blend in with the existing community. The conditional zoning to allow for the multi-family project would be compatible with the character of the area because there are several multi-family units to the north, east and south of the existing parcel. Surrounding the vacant land are other apartment buildings and single-family homes, except to the west which is vacant land.

A market study was recently completed for this project and showed strong support for the Solstice housing project as proposed. The units’ sizes and amenities will be competitive to the existing facilities in the area with the proposed complex designated for families. The occupancy rate in the market area is strong, and several properties in the area have waiting lists. The developer anticipates that the property will reach a stable occupancy level within three months of opening.

The population and households are growing in the Sylva area and indicate a need for new housing. With the Solstice project, the residents of Sylva who earn less than 60 percent of the median income for Jackson County will have access to new, workforce housing units that will be available to residents like local teachers, county/city employees, fire and police officers, etc. Conners emphasized the housing is not low-income, Section 8 housing, but rather workforce housing.

The site will be designed to provide safe access for the residents as well as sufficient room for fire trucks, police and ambulances to be able to provide emergency services to the community. 

With the board’s approval for the rezoning request, Solstice will now apply for funding through the North Carolina Housing Finance Agency for the project. States are awarded federal low-income housing tax credits annually for the acquisition, rehabilitation or new construction of rental housing targeted toward lower-income households. 

According to Conners, the application process is highly competitive with only one in five applications being awarded each year with the majority of the funding being awarded to developments in metro areas. The Solstice housing project is the fifth time Jackson County commissioners have approved a multifamily housing request for the Savannah Drive property from different developers. 

Proposed property for the funding must meet strict criteria such as being located within a certain distance of a grocery store, pharmacy, library and other amenities. This site in Sylva scores a perfect score on the application, however, many other sites around the state also have a similar score. The North Carolina Housing Finance Agency ranked all 100 counties in North Carolina according to housing needs, and the rankings will be used as a tie breaker for the housing applications. Based on the need for affordable housing in the area, Sylva received a ranking of 9th in the state.

Conners told the board she believes Sylva has a better chance this time of being awarded the funding with the state realizing the need for affordable housing in the area. The results of that application process are expected to be released in August. 

The second zoning map amendment request was from Edward and Brianne Hudak representing property owners C and J Properties. The Hudak’s requested property located at 414 Skyland Drive, Sylva, currently the Smoky Mountain Fitness, be rezoned for the purpose of a private micro school.

The applicant is requesting a map amendment that would change the property zoning from general business district to professional business district. The Hudak’s are proposing to operate a private school on the property which is not allowed use in the general business district; however, schools are permitted use within the professional business district.

Brianne Hudak spoke to the board about her vision to use the property for a micro school. Hudak is 16-year veteran of education, a K-12 school principal, Western Carolina University adjunct professor and current doctoral candidate identifying gifted talented children. The Hudak family recently relocated to Sylva from Charleston, South Carolina.

The proposed Journeys School for the Gifted and Talented would serve kindergarten through 8th grade gifted and talented students. Total capacity for the school would be 60 students. Hudak believes that Journey will fulfill the educational needs of gifted and talented students whose needs are not being served in the traditional school setting.

The property has a total land area of 13.93 acres both parcels with existing structures housing the fitness/pool activities and an accessory storage building. Properties to the east are in the institutional district, properties to the south are in the high-density residential district and properties to the west are in the general business district. The property has access directly to Skyland Drive, and the proposed school is not expected to disrupt the existing traffic pattern on and along Skyland Drive.

Hudak stated they intend to use the entire 14 acres for outdoor learning spaces, settings for expanded learning opportunities, amphitheater, nature trails and more.

“Sylva is an ideal location for a school of this kind,” said Hudak. “The central proximity to numerous towns, the local university, professional and medical offices and the suburban and rural mix can offer families and young professionals increased educational opportunities.”

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