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After nixing housing project, does county have any ideas?

April 27, 2006

The idea of work force housing took it on the chin Tuesday as the Washington County Commissioners rejected a developer's proposal to build an income-controlled apartment project in exchange for a break on the county's excise tax.

If the commissioners had a better idea, they didn't share it Tuesday. If they are giving up on the idea of encouraging construction of work force housing, they should say so and not give other developers false hopes.

The developer, John Schuster, had proposed building 24 apartment units near Maugansville. The rents would have been determined by the tenants' income under a system that would have remained in place for the 40-year life of the mortgage.

The county currently charges $15,500 in excise taxes per each apartment. Schuster had proposed a $1 per square foot charge. A 1,000-square-foot apartment would have yielded $1,000.

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Requiring the full payment would have cost Schuster $372,000, while accepting his proposal (and assuming each apartment was 1,000 square feet) would have yielded just $24,000.

That's a difference of $348,000, but if Schuster's proposal wasn't acceptable, why not negotiate with him for something higher?

If no agreement had been reached, it wouldn't have cost county government anything. If a deal had been struck, it would have added to the county's stock of affordable housing and encouraged other developers to join in.

It's worth noting that Schuster came to last week's commissioner meeting with Richard Willson, executive director of the Washington County Housing Authority.

Willson also chaired the work force housing task force.As someone the coimmissioners recently entrusted to study the issue in depth, Willson obviously felt it was a good deal for the county.

The commissioners felt otherwise, but as we have said many times, if you say "no" to one thing, you must say "yes" to something else. We await their alternative to Schuster's proposal with great interest.

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