Robinson Drive land under review for affordable housing

PRESCOTT ­ A parcel of Robinson Drive property that has long proven problematic for developers and the neighborhood could be on its way to becoming Prescott's first affordable-home-ownership project.

The Cedarwoods on Robinson Drive, a proposed 18-unit townhouse project, got its initial review by the Prescott Planning and Zoning Commission Thursday. And although commissioners had a number of questions, the project generated no opposition from the audience.

When city officials most recently discussed the 4.5 acres along Robinson Drive, the then-proposed apartment complex elicited heated opposition among the neighbors.

But this week, developer Vince Fornara went to the commission with a new idea, which officials say could become Prescott's first project officially offering affordable housing for purchase.

The project would include nine duplex buildings for 18 townhouses. Through collaboration with Affordable Housing Resources Inc., it would offer homes to eligible buyers ­ possibly in the $140,000 range.

Project representatives and city officials pointed out that they have yet to work out the details. The project plans and the accompanying development agreement that would set out continuing affordability criteria will be back on the Planning and Zoning Commission agenda on April 13.

This week's meeting was in contrast to meetings in 2003 and 2004, when residents from the southeast-Prescott Robinson neighborhood came out in force to oppose the proposed 40-unit apartment complex.

Maintaining that their narrow, winding road could not accommodate the traffic from such a densely developed project, they urged the city to stick with the existing zoning, which allows for 19 single-family homes. The City Council ultimately turned down the previous plan for rezoning.

The new plan for the Cedarwoods at Robinson Drive would comply with the existing zoning; the commission is considering a preliminary plat. Even so, City Community Planner Michael Bacon told the commission that an issue does exist with the project's compliance with hillside development requirements.

"That would be the exchange ­ affordability for a waiver of the hillside development (requirements)," Bacon said.

Fornara told the commission that the rough terrain in the area has made coming up with a workable plan difficult. "It's a tough site," he said, adding that he has had "quite a bit of dialogue with the neighbors" on the property. With the current plan, he said, the neighbors "shouldn't have any concerns about it being a detriment to their property values."

Several of the commissioners appeared to like what they saw in the plans. "What we're looking at is the best use I've seen for this property in the past eight years," said Commissioner Len Scamardo.

Even so, one commissioner, Joe Gardner, voiced concerns about the design of the project. "I think the concept's good and the density's good, but the land planning is poor," Gardner said. "I think there's a more creative way of doing this."

Fornara responded that "to try to meet the price point of what we're trying to achieve, we've explored every creative possibility that we could."

Kathern Mitchell, executive director of Affordable Housing Resources, Inc., said the homes likely would have a value of about $250,000 in today's market. To make them affordable for people earning 80 percent of the area median income (about $36,960 for a family of four), who could be eligible for a mortgage of about $135,000, "we anticipate creating a trust to cover the gap," she said.

The homeowners and the trust then would share in the future equity, Mitchell added.

Contact the reporter at cbarks@prescottaz.com