Housing Authority commissioners approve revised BTW plan

May 15, 2013 

The latest plan to redevelop the aging Booker T. Washington public housing complex won the unanimous approval of the Columbus Housing Authority board of commissioners Wednesday.

The board commended Len Williams, the housing authority’s chief executive officer, along with his staff, for overcoming recent opposition and developing a plan that benefits all concerned.

“I think it’s wonderful how you burnt the midnight hours to come up with something else,” Larry Cardin, the board chairman, said after the housing authority made its presentation. “You came up with something that works best for everyone.”

State Sen. Ed Harbison, who attended the meeting, said the housing authority reached out to everyone, which resulted in a well-thought out proposal.

“Instead of looking for conflict, they looked for solutions,” he said. “This is going to have the least negative impact.”

The new plan calls for a 100-unit “senior living” facility to be built on the site of the current Chapman Homes on Fort Benning Road at Chapman Way. In order to implement the plan, the housing authority must first qualify for federal tax credit financing. The agency is in the process of preparing an application, but won’t know until the end of the year if the financing is approved.

The housing authority developed the latest proposal as an alternative to a controversial plan that called for 100 apartments to be built around the historic Liberty Theater. Opponents of the plan argued that it violated the 2003 Liberty District Master Plan, which focused more on commercial development.

Mayor Teresa Tomlinson and City Manager Isaiah Hugley were strong proponents of the original plan. But they faced opposition from Tax Commissioner Lula Huff, some councilmen and grassroots activists. Williams said Tomlinson encouraged the housing authority to go back to the drawing board and come back with a plan that would satisfy all involved.

In addition to the 100 apartments at the Chapman Homes location, the latest BTW proposal calls for 100 mixed-income units to be built on the north side of the current BTW property at the corner of Victory Drive and Veterans Parkway. That would open the intersection, where the Civic Center is located, for commercial and retail development.

Under the revised plan, the city would contribute $2.5 million to the $35 million project and the Housing Authority would invest $7.7 million. The rest would be funded through tax credits, deferred developers’ fees and mortgages, Williams said.

The housing authority, which unveiled the revised plan at a City Council meeting Tuesday, will hold a stakeholders’ meeting 5:30 p.m. Friday at BTW to update public housing residents and the larger community.

Zeph Baker, a commissioner on the Planning Advisory Commission, led a vote against rezoning for the now-defunct Liberty District project. He said Wednesday the housing authority should be congratulated for finding a solution.

“I want to applaud Len Williams and the housing authority for their leadership and redevelopment plans,” he said. “I think they’ve taken care of all facets. They’ve also welcomed input from the community and also the stakeholders, including residents that are most affected.”

Baker said Liberty District stakeholders would now like the city to appoint a “champion” to spearhead revitalization of property around the Liberty Theater as called for in the 2003 master plan. Nadine Moore, a spokeswoman for Concerned Citizens, which opposed the original plan, said she is pleased with the latest proposal. But she would like to see the Housing Authority go one step further and move all 392 BTW units to the Chapman location so children wouldn’t have to be bused to school as they are at BTW.

However, if that doesn’t happen, Moore said Concerned Citizens would be satisfied. She plans to attend Friday’s meeting to hug Williams.

“I’m hugging him because I think this is a good thing he’s done,” she said. “I think that him going back to the table and coming back with a solution to put those apartments on land that’s already owned and zoned properly by the housing authority is a good plan. He should have done it the first time.”

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