Veteran housing could come to Canton

By DeeAnna Haney | Jan 18, 2013

A proposed renovation project in downtown Canton could lead to housing reserved especially for local veterans.

The brick building on the corner of Depot and Main Street, which was once Jackson’s Appliance and more recently, Great Southern Trading Company, could undergo a transformation into an efficiency apartment building.

Building owner Terry Simmons attempted to open a boarding house several years ago, but it only attracted tenants who caused trouble.

"I allowed the building to go vacant until I could come up with a better plan and the best one was to meet some of the needs for the homeless veterans," Simmons said.

He and Lisa Allen with Home Advocates and Limitless Outreach (HALO) recently approached the town with the idea.

HALO, established just last year, is a nonprofit home advocacy organization that works to open housing opportunities for veterans and their families in Western North Carolina.

Allen said she has known Simmons for several years and the two share a passion for helping veterans who are coming home from overseas and may not have a place to live.

“We’re already dealing with that crisis of homeless veterans in Buncombe County, so we said, ‘If there are funds available to help them, why don’t we make that happen?’” Allen said.

To her, Canton is the perfect place to start that mission.

Growing up visiting family in Canton, Allen saw the mill town change and grow over the years. She saw Champion change hands to Evergreen Packaging and she saw the town pull together in the floods of 2004.

“I knew the community had a history and spirit of taking care of each other,” she said.

She hopes the community will embrace the idea of veterans housing in that same giving spirit. Although the building needs a significant amount of work, she said, “The vision has to begin somewhere…I see a beautiful edifice for (veterans) to call home.”

Ordinance change

Currently, however, the zoning ordinance for the central business district prohibits residential accommodation on the street level downtown.

The intent of the old ordinance was for store owners who had a storefront downstairs and lived upstairs, said Town Manager Al Matthews.

“When I informed them (Allen and Simmons) of that they said, ‘What can we do to get this changed?’” he said.

Planning board members discussed the proposal and came up with a modification to the ordinance, which would require a conditional use permit for those who wished to renovate or build street level housing downtown.

The planning board included certain conditions, including that there can be no more than one apartment building every 500 feet, that building renovations keep with the aesthetic of surrounding buildings and there must be parking availability for tenants.

“The planning board saw this particular case as a positive for the town,” Matthews said. “You don’t want all available space to be occupied by housing, but the conditional use allows a mix for housing and commercial space.”

HALO plans to obtain grants to renovate the building keeping with the original architectural style. A contractor has estimated the project will cost about $1.3 million.

They are proposing a two-level apartment building with 18 efficiency apartments meant for single occupancy veterans.

"They're going to be state of the art, very clean, very modern facilities with very strict criteria. It won't be a boardinghouse where we just allow anybody and everybody to come in and do what they want," Simmons said.

More than anything, it will provide relief to a large veteran population in Haywood County.

"It's permanent housing, permanent vision and a place people can call home instead of transitional living," Allen said.

Because of the conditional use, HALO will have to come back to the planning board with a copy of their lease agreement and show how they plan to meet the requirements, Matthews said.

It’s a project that the board hopes will have a positive impact on the town.

“Hopefully it will provide incentive for other properties in the area to do some façade work and renovations and it will add to the tax base,”Matthews said. “Also it would mean 18 individuals in the immediate area who would hopefully add to the economy through their activity downtown.”

A public hearing is scheduled to discuss this change to the ordinance at the next town board meeting Tuesday, Jan. 22 at 6 p.m. upstairs at the Canton Town Hall.

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