Athens City Council heard recommendations over the summer for affordable housing development locations within city limits, and City Planner Paul Logue hopes that development will begin at The Ridges by 2020.
City Councilwoman Sarah Grace, D-At Large, spoke on behalf of the affordable housing commission at a city council meeting in late August. As a member of the commission, Grace provided the group’s recommendations to the city concerning affordable housing for non-students, and provided The Ridges as a potential site for development.
The hope for the project is that an increase in affordable housing will lead to an increase in businesses and people moving to Athens, Grace said in an email. The Athens County Economic Development Council has said that a lack of affordable housing has been a barrier to attracting new businesses to the area, she said.
“There are current citizens who are renters, empty-nesters, retirees and others who would like the opportunity to purchase an affordable home within the city limits,” Grace said in an email. “Personally, I think the history and beauty of the location make it an interesting place to consider living.”
Shawna Bolin, a commission member and the associate vice president of university planning and space, said that the commission was considering the renovation of the existing buildings at The Ridges for affordable housing. The commission is also considering new development on property south of Dairy Lane, near The Ridges.
Bolin co-authored a 2015 report that mapped out similar ideas about repurposing The Ridges that the commission is using as a framework.
The report drew inspiration from the Grand Traverse Commons, a former Michigan state hospital that was renovated into a shopping center and housing complex in the early 2000s. She said that seeing a renovation like this done before proves that The Ridges has the potential to be reimagined for cheaper housing.
Paul Logue, city planner and affordable housing commission member, agreed with Bolin that the facilities have existing resources that satisfy the needs of the community.
Logue said that the commission used certain criteria for selecting locations for potential development, including access to utilities and roadways. The Ridges was also a standout because of its proximity to town and campus.
The members of the affordable housing commission used similar criteria to narrow down other optimal properties for potential developers, including various university-owned and city-owned properties, Grace said.
Grace said in her August presentation that in order to attract developers for the project, the city should offer certain incentives for creating affordable housing on those properties. The incentives could include things like zoning modifications, tax incentives and expedited permitting, she said.
In order to benefit from these incentives, developers would have to satisfy certain requirements set by the city, including criteria for price, percentage of units with universal design and sustainability, Grace said.
Logue said that Athens residents will not pay any extra tax money to fund the developments. The plans implement a strategy called tax increment financing, or TIF, in which the city of Athens will fund the project through the property tax revenue that the project will bring in once completed.
So far, there are no definite plans for development for affordable housing at The Ridges. The university is currently renovating Buildings 13, 14 and 18 at The Ridges to prepare them for new occupants, including the Ohio University Police Department.
Logue said that in his opinion, The Ridges should be renovated and preserved for its historical significance alone. City councilwoman Chris Fahl, D-Fourth Ward, agreed.
“I mean, it’s a beautiful place, why wouldn’t anybody want to live there,” Fahl said. “You know, you can rent it out as spooky places.”