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Controversial Creekside Village heads to city council

By: Cheri March The News Messenger
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Lincoln’s Planning Commission voted 5-1 in favor of a development permit for affordable housing development Creekside Village on Aug. 20, despite impassioned pleas from several residents in a neighborhood adjacent to the proposed project. The City Council is expected to make a final decision on the project, which was first approved conceptually in 2007, following a public hearing Sept. 23. Project plans call for 23 low-density homes to be built on 4.3 acres at the southwest corner of Joiner Parkway and First Street, a site owned by the city’s redevelopment agency. The remainder of the 6.3-property has been rezoned for commercial use. Once approved, the property would be sold to Mercy Housing, a nonprofit affordable housing provider. Mercy plans to build 16 houses with its mutual self-help program, in which homeowners perform a portion of the construction in lieu of a down payment. Qualifying homeowners must make less than $57,000 a year – or 80 percent or less of the area’s median household income of $71,000 for a family of four. Of the remaining seven homes, Mercy would sell three to a contractor and leave four available for Zebra Housing, a Lincoln High School program that allows students to build homes that are later sold by the school district. Creekside Village has proved controversial throughout its planning process, and Lincoln residents, including Commissioner Kristel Herrera, continue to express frustration over issues ranging from the project’s classic-style architecture to its proximity to nearby affordable housing. “I think it’s a lovely program and I would absolutely welcome this project into Lincoln, but this is not the most ideal location,” said Herrera, who voted against the project. Resident Miguel Diaz pleaded with the commission not to approve the housing, which he felt would drag down his neighborhood. “You can’t put all the low-income housing in one neighborhood and expect it to flourish,” Diaz said. “It starts deteriorating.” Diaz said his part of town holds the bulk of affordable developments, including low-income apartments just down the street on Joiner Parkway. He would rather see a park or the city’s new police headquarters occupy the property. “I’ll just sell now and move to a bigger, nice home because I can afford to do that, but everyone left behind is going to suffer,” Diaz said. Planning Commission Chairman Dan Cross said he was sympathetic to what residents perceived as a cluster of affordable housing, but saw the low-density project as a compromise. “Normally, we’d see medium-density townhomes or condos in this kind of an area,” Cross said. Contrary to the belief of many residents, he said, Creekside Village is not subsidized housing. Applicants must qualify for a 30-year mortgage and have a good credit rating and employment history, explained Mercy’s vice president, Greg Sparks. Nationally, less than 2 percent of self-help homes go into foreclosure annually, Sparks said. “I think what we’re setting out to do is create something that would enrich and actually be an asset in the neighborhood, not only in terms of housing, but the people who would live there,” he said. Residents were also wary of the project’s neotraditional design. Creekside Village would offer three architectural styles – Victorian, cottage and Craftsman – each with elements such as gables, asphalt shingles, front-yard fences and wood-lap siding in classic colors. Homes would also have detached garages and alleyways, large porches and lot sizes – similar to Lincoln’s older homes as well as to villages proposed in the city’s new general plan. Planners have said the goal is for the homes to appear as if they evolved over time, rather than as a contrived development – an effect enhanced by varying setbacks, fence styles and color schemes. But residents felt the homes would stand out against the stucco and tile roofs of the existing neighborhood. “This is going to set this development apart way too much,” said Dave Conley, whose yard would directly abut the new houses. Commissioner Richard Wyatt disagreed. “A house built today is going to look different than one built 20 years ago,” Wyatt said, pointing out Lincoln’s mix of architectural styles from the 1880s to recently. Though Conley later said the outcome of the meeting was not quite what he had hoped, he was encouraged by the commissioners’ interest. “I was ready to do battle last night, but I’ve mellowed out a bit,” Conley said the day after the meeting. The commission made several changes based on Conley’s concerns, proposing a gate to keep people from accessing Auburn Ravine through the neighborhood – and therefore reducing parking in the area, a new fence to separate Creekside Village from the existing neighborhood and higher fencing around the new lots. But Conley made is clear he still opposes the overall project, and holds out hope that the city council will overturn it after a public hearing. “I still think this is a completely wrong use of the land,” he said.