Lee senior center OK'd

LEESBURG, Ga. -- Josh Thomason, a development manager with Atlanta-based Peachtree Housing Partners, got a Christmas present over the holidays that should spread cheer south into Lee County.

Thomason got word just before Christmas that his company had been approved for Department of Community Affairs tax credits that will allow Peachtree Housing to move forward with construction of the $6 million Forrester Senior Village senior housing complex.

"We got everything we expected; everything that we asked for (from DCA) was approved," Thomason said Monday. "This process was absolutely huge for us. There were 72 applications (for DCA funding) submitted, and maybe a third of them were successful.

"We're in talks with our equity provider right now to see how soon we can close on the property. I expect to see dirt moving the day after we close."

Jim Bacon with local property owners Flint Ventures said Monday he expects Peachtree Housing to close on the proposed Forrester Senior Village site -- 14 acres of land about a third of a mile off U.S. Highway 19 at Forrester Parkway -- "late in the first quarter of 2011 or early in the second quarter." But his enthusiasm for the project matched Thomason's.

"This is just great news," Bacon said. "I talked with Josh briefly about the project, and they're in the process of getting all the tax credits placed. Once they do, we'll close on the property deal, and they'll get started with the construction. Josh made it clear that (Peachtree) plans to get things going as soon as the deal is done."

The proposed project required a somewhat controversial rezoning vote by the Lee County Commission in April of last year. The land had been zoned C-2 (general business), but Peachtree Housing sought -- and got -- R-2 (multi-family residential) designation. Detractors said land near the U.S. 19 corridor should remain available for commercial ventures only, but proponents of the project suggested the site was located far enough off 19 to allow for the rezoning.

Others in the community erroneously opposed the proposed development based on an assumption that it would allow "low-income housing" to be built along one of the county's most promising business corridors.

However, Thomason assured the commission and local residents that the tax credits sought by Peachtree are based on a Housing and Urban Development program implemented during the Reagan administration that allows for the credits with developments that rent 15 percent of their units to persons 55 or older at or below 50 percent of the area's median income.

The other 85 percent must be rented to seniors with incomes at or below 60 percent of the median income. In Lee County, qualifying individuals may make at or below $20,300 (50 percent AMI) to $27,420 (60 percent).

"This is great news because I think it will mean jobs for our community," Lee Commissioner Rick Muggridge said Monday. "The reality now is that the answer to a lot of our area's, the state's and the nation's (economic) problems is jobs.

"(Forrester Senior Village) will mean jobs for the people building the units, for the people paving the roads, for the cable TV companies. And once those rooftops get there, it will be one more piece of moss on the rolling stone, on the economic snowball, that is gaining momentum while rolling down the hill."

Thomason said that while Peachtree is getting its financial paperwork in order, work has begun on the design of the 50-unit, one- and two-bedroom complex.

"Right now, our architects are moving forward with the design, and our civil engineers are getting everything in order," he said. "Over the next month or so we'll meet with county officials to get all our building permits in place. We'll finalize those details with our architects and engineers so that we're ready to move forward."

Lee County Chamber of Commerce Director Winston Oxford said the complex could be the driving force behind continued development on the north-south U.S. 19 corridor.

"This project will definitely be an asset to Lee County, and not just because it will contribute to our tax base," he said. "It's also going to give us more of a population concentration five or 10 minutes away from the hottest commercial district in the county.

"Once construction begins, it could be the impetus for more development. It's a win-win all around."