By Randy Arrington
LURAY, June 3 — It’s been a long time coming, but in recent weeks Luray and Page County saw the start of a project that may help meet the need for affordable housing.
“We’re here to celebrate the end of the pre-development phase of this project,” People Inc. president and CEO Rob Goldsmith told a group of local officials and construction executives, who first laughed at the remark and then applauded.
“We’ve been debating as to whether the idea for this project began nine or 10 years ago,”Goldsmith continued. “This is the second site we looked at, and there have been a number of stops, and starts, and hiccups along the way.”
In mid-April, WB Properties & Construction first began moving dirt at a 9-acre site along Airport Road adjacent to the Luray airport’s runway. Vertical construction of the 52-unit housing development — dubbed Luray Meadows Apartments — will begin in August. The $12 million affordable housing project is being funded through numerous sources pooled together by the Abingdon-based non-profit People Inc., which invested “hundreds of thousands of dollars” in the pre-development phase.
“This could not have happened without the [Luray] town council,” Goldsmith said, noting the town’s application for a $700,000 Community Development Block Grant (CDBG). “Without that, the numbers would not have worked. When non-profit agencies and government can work together, there is nothing we can’t accomplish, and I think this is another example of that.”
With single-family homes on the real estate market numbering only in the single digits across Page County in recent months, the start of the Luray Meadows project serves as welcome news — even if it won’t be ready for tenets until the summer of 2022.
“This is a great day for Luray,” Mayor Jerry Dofflemyer said. “We reached our destination, and it’s been quite a journey. There is a huge demand for affordable housing in Luray.”
Congressman Ben Cline (R-6th District) gathered with local and regional stakeholders on Thursday at the future site of Luray Meadows Apartments to break ground on the long-awaited project.
“Affordable housing is a problem, and not just in Luray,” Cline said. “I’ve been in Washington three years, and I continue to be dismayed at the dysfunction there and the accomplishments taking place at the local level. We need to make sure that there are jobs here and housing available, to make sure this economy comes bouncing back like it should. I’m here as a cheerleader, and I look forward to celebrating it when it’s done.”
The first site considered for the housing project sat along Route 211 adjacent to the Page Valley Fairgrounds. After several years of pre-development work, the bids for construction came in higher than expected and the project fell through. “Site issues,” including infrastructure, were among the problems that caused People Inc. seek a second site for the project.
The process was dragged out further due to numerous approvals from various government agencies and the associated paperwork, as well as funding sources and cycles that only allowed narrow windows for applications annually. The public-private partnership behind the project has been working to develop the current site for more than four years.
“It’s not uncommon to spend two or three years on pre-development…because of the government agencies involved…getting the town’s [CDBG] grant approved was an 18-month process,” said Brian Smith, president/owner of WB Properties & Construction. “This one has been a little longer than most.”
“A lot of people thought it was a dead deal, but with People Inc. it’s never a dead deal,” Smith continued. “It has been a long time, and I think that speaks to the tenacity of People Inc. to see it through.”
Luray Meadows Apartments will include seven structures — six residential (with 52 living units) and one community building. Both two-bedroom and three-bedroom apartments will be available when the complex opens next summer, but rental rates were not available.
“I have a request of everyone here,” Smith said jokingly to the crowd at Thursday’s ground breaking. “Please go home and look in your basement and your garage, and see if you have any extra plywood…or shingles…and please donate it. We also need people looking for jobs.”
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