Residents voice concerns about housing project

Nearby residents of an upcoming affordable housing project look over blueprints provided by the developer during a town hall meeting at the city administration building Wednesday. (Mitchell Willetts / Enid News & Eagle)

ENID, Okla. — Nearly 50 residents from the Willow Run neighborhood and Burgundy Place senior living community gathered at the city administration building Wednesday afternoon to express concerns about an upcoming affordable housing development to be constructed nearby.

The planned development, known for the time being as the Commons on Willow, will go up at 1410 W. Willow, site of the defunct Highland Park Manor.

Completed designs show four buildings and 60 total units between them. Of those units, 60 percent are reserved for people earning 60 percent of the area's median income, and the remaining units are saved for those earning 50 percent of the AMI.

Neighborhood Housing Services Oklahoma, the nonprofit developer behind the plan, specializes in affordable housing projects. It has built several similar facilities around the state, NHS Executive Director Roland Chupik said.

"We've done this project before," he said.

Still, the crowd of mostly seniors voiced a host of worries during a scheduled town hall on the matter. Increased traffic, diminished privacy and safety concerns were at the forefront, as were questions regarding property values, background checks and demands for better transparency from developer NHS.

"What will this do to property values in the area?" one resident asked. Chupik said that he did not know.

"They're not going to go up," the resident responded.

Chupik opened the meeting with an apology for how long it has taken to get the development started. County assessor records show the property has been in NHS hands since April 2016.

Chupik said the delay was due largely to challenges obtaining tax credits, the sale of which is how much of the $10 million project is being financed.

"We should close now either next Monday or the 16th of September," Chupik told the crowd.

Some said they would prefer to delay the housing complex further, buy more time to address the issues.

The latest set of blueprints has residents upset.

Earlier statements from the developer claimed the apartments would be two stories tall, but many residents found out for the first time Wednesday that plans had changed, that it would be three stories.

Chupik explained that it was more financially feasible to build three stories than two-story buildings — less expensive to build up than out.

The crowd, particularly those living directly north of the site in Willow Run, said the third story would mean less privacy for them.

"Tell me why you switch from two stories to three, and you're just kind of cramming this down on everyone," an audience member said. "You're affecting their lives, you're affecting their blood pressure and their finances and you're driving them crazy."

Ward 6 City Commissioner David Mason, whose purview the development falls under, responded.

"I hate that you feel that way, but that's why we had this (town hall)," Mason said, triggering responses of "It's too late."

"You should have engaged your neighbors before you drew your plans up," the audience member said, referring to the developers.

The new apartments will mean more traffic in and around Willow. Residents said it's already congested, and depending on the time of day, "dangerous."

"Somebody's going to get killed," a resident said, one of several suggesting that an additional traffic light should be installed along Willow.

City Manager Jerald Gilbert said he could not promise a new traffic light, but that he would look into it, and it would be dependent upon traffic counts in the vicinity.

Foot traffic is another potential problem residents shared.

Margaret and Dick Thomas have lived in Willow Run for six years, they said.

It's quiet and that's the point. There's no kids or teens wandering around, not much unwanted commotion of any kind. They worry that could change with their new neighbors.

"I'm sorry they're putting it there," Margaret Thomas, 75, said. "I don't think it's a place to have this building at all."

Chupik promised the crowd better communication and transparency moving forward. He exchanged contact information with residents volunteering to act as liaisons for their communities, and continue to voice their questions and suggestions.

He also agreed to attend another town hall meeting in the near future. An exact date has not been set but it will take place before demolition begins on the project.

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Willetts is education and city reporter for the Enid News & Eagle.
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