For instance, the photo above shows a three-story twin house on George Street. The rest of the block has units of two and three-story rowhouses. The twin is taller, has nicer trim at the top, a pent roof over the doors, with pretty grey stone above and below the windows and around the basement level. The houses were all part of the same development. The twin was built first, as the sample house. The builder (Mr. Jamison, who I mentioned in a previous post) used this house to show buyers what options were available, inside and out. He could sell the other half of the twin and take down payments on the yet-to-be-built rowhouses, to finance the rest of the project, which he would build one rowhouse unit at a time, using profits from the sales and down payments.
|Sample single, corner of Wood & Pine|
Progressive Housing Ventures CEO Sarah Peck said last night that she could reduce the density of the project to 18 houses and make a change to the driveway configuration to add onsite parking and more street parking on Basin. This would make the neighborhood happy. Problem was, she said she needed an extra $200,000 to do it.
Now Norristown happens to have an extra $150,000 hanging around, from the sale of the Citizens Bank building. They were going to hand it over to Pennrose, but that development fell through. Ms. Peck asked for a commitment of this money as well as Council's help in procuring the additional $50,000 fro the county. Why can't Ms. Peck apply to the county herself? Because Montco's already sinking $270,000 into the project as it is. In addition, she's applied for two grants from the PA Department of Community & Economic Development, and Norristown's Municipal Waste Authority has pledged $50,000 in sewer fee waivers. She says she can't raise the asking price of the units any further or no one would buy the houses.
Let's do the math. Progressive Housing Ventures's website says "projected pricing in the 140s." 24 houses at $140,000 (though the houses will probably go for more) equals $3.36 million retail. 18 houses equals $2.52 mil. The difference--6 houses--is $840,000. Ms. Peck says she can reduce the number of houses for $200,000. Granted, she needs the same amount of paving, landscaping, rainwater management and the rest, plus the price of the land, no matter how many houses, but I'm seeing a huge profit margin here. If she built one unit of 6 houses to begin, used one as a sample house and sold the other 5, she'd easily have the extra money to build the other two units of 6 without having to ask Norristown or the county for an extra dime. The whole scene last night felt like blackmail. "Give me $200,000 and the neighborhood doesn't get hurt."
I don't know about the rest of you, but I'd rather see my tax money go into our schools, toward fixing up our REALLY depressed neighborhoods (1202 Dekalb isn't even close), toward helping our local small businesses, Arts Hill and our historic buildings. If you want to put bucks into development, let's get Riverfront going, because that's going to help the town's overall economic situation and 1202 Dekalb isn't.
Councilman Millner would disagree. Last night, he kept trying to sabotage the discussion. He seems determined that 24 housing units be built, using the bad parking configuration, and the neighborhood be damned. He kept returning to a single point--that the empty lot at 1202 Dekalb might have a "Coming Soon..." sign on it for years and never be developed. To which members of the audience shouted "That would be fine with us!" Frankly, I think the "Coming Soon.." sign ought to be on Millner's council seat: "Coming soon...a councilperson here to serve the taxpayers and not his own ego."
But in a way, I have to agree with him that Norristown shouldn't be paying for Sarah Peck's development. Not unless the town is going to get a cut of the profits.