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Ashe Street area improvements on track; City sells lot for affordable housing – News – Hendersonville Times-News

Hendersonville is pushing ahead with planned improvements to the Ashe Street neighborhood near the site of the new police headquarters, diving into the details of a grant the city hopes to use to fund a range of projects there.

At a City Council meeting Thursday, City Manager John Connet updated council members on the ongoing efforts, including plans for the potential $750,000 in grant funds.

As part of the improvement project, the council also approved a proclamation paving the way for the private sale of a lot to Housing Assistance Corp.

For $30,000, the city will sell HAC a .32-acre lot on the corner of Beech and East Pace streets for the development of affordable housing.

Connet said selling the lot this way, as opposed to an upset bid process, would give the city more control, including measures like requiring the housing units eventually built on the site to go to folks of a certain income level.

Late last month, the council applied for a Community Development Block Grant, currently slated to fund $500,000 for curb and gutter improvements and sidewalks, $200,000 to fund home renovations in the neighborhood and $50,000 in administration fees.

A neighborhood meeting in June found concerns of crime and safety at the top of the list for residents, as well as improved street lighting, a need for sidewalks, pedestrian and traffic safety and improvements to Sullivan Park.

Goals were set, including creating a large public investment and city commitment, citizen safety, stabilizing property values, encouraging reinvestment by property owners, providing affordable housing and infrastructure improvements, and converting vacant or blighted property.

Of the 64 lots in the project area, Connet noted that only 11 are homeowner-occupied, with the rest either owned by absentee landlords, rented or vacant.

In the revaluation prior to the most recent one, he said many property values in the area were declining, unlike property in the rest of the city, which was increasing in value.

Connet also emphasized work on the new police headquarters, saying construction is underway and addressing concerns that have surfaced in the community. He noted residents’ concerns about over-policing and gentrification.

On how the city obtained the property to build the headquarters building, he said three off the parcels were already owned by the city. Only one was homeowner-occupied, and the city negotiated with the homeowner to purchase the property at a fair market rate, allowing them to live essentially rent free there until their new home was constructed.

One lot was owned by an absentee landlord, two were vacant dwellings in deteriorating shape and one was a vacant tract, all purchased at market price, he said.

Only one dwelling required the city to use eminent domain, a home occupied seasonally, and the property owner is getting a market price, Connet said, describing all as friendly negotiations.

Councilman Jerry Smith said the property taken by eminent domain was the last one the city had to acquire, stressing that the city didn’t go into the neighborhood threatening eminent domain, but negotiated first.

Housing Assistance Corp. is also working with other grants and programs for home renovations in the neighborhood, Connet said, noting the potential for the lot the nonprofit is looking to purchase from the city.

“As we’re looking at revitalization and improvements, change is hard. But based on the cost of land in Hendersonville,” he said, the city may have to look at mixed-density developments to reach price points needed for affordable housing.

Renovating neighbors’ homes

Of the $750,000 loan, $200,000 would fund a handful of home renovations in the area, to bring homeowner-occupied homes up to code.

Smith said four applications for renovations were received, and the $200,000 will only fund three. Housing Assistance Corp. gave up $25,000 of its admin costs, which are typically 10% of the total grant funds, to help fund the fourth project.

The city made a commitment of $26,000 to cover the rest of the cost for the final rehab project, whether it can be pulled from the $500,000 earmarked for sidewalks and other repairs or from the city’s general fund.

Either way, all four projects will be funded if the city is awarded the grant, a decision that should come in the spring.

Those who receive the grants must agree to live in the home for five years after the project is completed, and each project has to go to bid separately and be funded in full or not at all.

Councilwoman Jennifer Hensley raised some concerns about the administrative costs, and Connet said that money goes to everything from grant writers to paying inspectors at every stage of the construction projects.

“We’ve done a lot with (Housing Assistance Corp.),” said Councilman Jeff Miller. “I think we have a pretty good deal.”

Searching for a new chief of police

After the retirement of former Police Chief Herbert Blake and the selection of interim Chief Bill Hollingsed, the council Thursday night began planning its search for the next leader of the Hendersonville Police Department.

Connet told the council that the first step is a public survey, available through the city’s website until Sept. 11, to get input on the search. About 100 responses had come in by meeting time Thursday.

Next will be compiling the profile and job advertisement from input meetings and the current job description, and placing the advertisement in professional journals, newspapers and websites.

The posting will stay open until Oct. 11, he said, and the city will also recruit targeted individuals.

The council approved a contract with Developmental Associates LLC for assistance with the recruitment and evaluation process, the same company, Connet noted, that the city used to find him.

In a letter from Stephen Straus, president of Developmental Associates, included with the agenda, Straus says that over the last five years the company has conducted more than 20 searches for public safety chiefs.

Their record also includes recruiting four of North Carolina’s six female African-American chiefs of police.

After the initial review of candidates in early October, the pool will be narrowed to 12 to 15, Connet said, based on experience, education and background Google searches.

That list will be finalized Oct. 11, and second-level screenings with telephone interviews, emotional intelligence testing and survey responses will narrow the field to five or six by Oct. 19.

A virtual assessment will be conducted Oct. 28-29, with groups of 12 to 16 assessors made up of law enforcement professionals, local government managers, Hendersonville staff and community members.

The city manager will then conduct one-on-one interviews with the final candidates and on the 29th, assessors will provide ratings that will be coupled with the interviews to further narrow the field.

Connet stressed that if the city doesn’t find the ideal candidate, they won’t settle; they’ll start the process all over again.

Once a finalist is chosen, a thorough background investigation including inquiries in his or her home community will be conducted and the successful candidate will receive executive-level coaching based on the results of their emotional intelligence testing.

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