Midtown concerns heard

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JEROME A. POLLOS/Press Earl Crain talks on his cell phone Tuesday outside the American Legion Hall in Midtown Coeur d'Alene across from where a proposed apartment complex is being considered. With the last round of Midtown renovations, American Legion Hall lost parking space located in front of its building. "They messed with everything and then promised a signal at the crosswalk and I don't think we'll ever see that done," Crain said.

COEUR d'ALENE - Several midtown neighbors aired their concerns Wednesday about a mixed-use workforce housing and retail development project planned in the heart of their neighborhood.

Unhappy with the recent change in plans from for-sale condos to scaled-income rentals, around 60 midtown residents and business owners said they'd like to see the project scaled back, reverted to the original plan or shelved altogether.

In response, The Housing Company, the nonprofit proposing the project, said it would see if it can re-address the plan involving neighbor input, but it would have to crunch financial numbers and check with the organization's leadership too before anything could be set in stone.

"I can go back and talk to my board," said Douglas Peterson, THC director. "I'll keep coming back and try and make something work."

Whether a solution can be found should be determined over more meetings the sides agreed to set in the future. Peterson said, however, he couldn't promise that the project would be shelved completely because neighbors didn't agree with it.

"It's really not as simple as saying yes or no," he said.

The project at Fourth Street and Roosevelt Avenue has been talked about since 2007. Originally, it was pitched as condos for sale atop a ground floor of retail space. But the market decline killed the condo prospect, and in November THC switched to 45 units of rentals available for qualified people who earn 60 percent of the median income, called workforce housing that THC says the market demands.

Neighbors, though, said they felt the switch was made suddenly and without consulting them, which hadn't been the case in years prior. Neighbors had been very involved in planning as it was still a condo project, they said, and had supported it then.

But the change isn't in line with their original wishes, and the four-story footprint doesn't fit the neighborhood's makeup.

"If you won't stop the project," said Eric Soles, midtown resident speaking for around 20 stakeholders about the disappointment of being left out of the rental project planning, "How can I believe you're going to be good project managers ... I have no faith in that."

Others said because the project could net around $5 million in tax credits and more than $500,000 from Lake City Development Corp., the city's urban renewal agency, it would unfairly put government finances competing against open market rental companies.

"It basically comes down to enough is enough," said Pat Acuff, who works in real estate. "I don't know how you justify it."

Steve Widmyer, who moderated the meeting at the American Legion building on Fourth Street across from the proposed site, pointed to the cost per rental unit hitting $181,000 as being too expensive, more expensive than $169,000 workforce homes available, and not an economically viable project.

Coupled with reports from a city Housing Affordability Study that showed rental units available at the price range the project is proposing, he said the project doesn't make sense.

"I don't know if the project passes the need test, in my mind," he said.

Whether THC, which is awaiting approval on its tax credit application, can shift the plan and still feel it makes economic sense will be determined down the line. The tax credit application couldn't go toward condos for sale.

"Personally, I don't want to do anything controversial," said Brad Jordan, LCDC member.

Building a facility that would enhance the community feel of midtown was always LCDC's intent, not something "shoved down the throat" of neighbors, he said.

THC has put around $800,000 into land for the project.

It's the only viable partner in years to pitch something that could work but "obviously, we have some problems here," Jordan said.

Seeing the neighborhood's unrest, Councilman Woody McEvers said the project should pull out.

"I'm not feeling any love here," he said.

Asked if he was happy with THC's response about seeing if the plan can be altered, midtown resident Lynn Schwindell said: "So far."

"Please understand why we're passionate," Soles added. "We live here and are raising families here."

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