First buildings at Durham's Rolling Hills almost ready

Mar. 06, 2014 @ 06:48 PM

Contractors working on the city’s Rolling Hills redevelopment should begin finishing buildings in April, enabling the first tenants to start moving in a month later, Community Development Director Reginald Johnson said.

Work on one of the 12 buildings at what officials are now calling The Lofts at Southside is lagging and likely won’t finish until November. But people will be able to live in the others “and not be impacted” by the ongoing construction, Johnson told the City Council.

The project’s St. Louis-based developer has a list of about 250 potential tenants in hand for the 132 apartments, and now needs only to open some model units to begin signing people to leases.

“Once we have those things to show, I think we’re going to go gangbusters up there,” said Karl Schlachter, a senior vice president for the developer, McCormack Baron Salazar.

Schlachter was responding to a question from Councilman Eugene Brown, who wondered if the numerous private-sector apartment projects now under construction in Durham would hurt the marketability of The Lofts at Southside.

Brown estimated that about 1,700 units are in various phases of construction. They include three big projects under way just west of downtown near the present headquarters of the Durham Police Department.

Schlachter, however, said the construction boom reflects the upturn in central Durham’s fortunes. “Success breeds success,” he said, signaling confidence in demand.

The Lofts are unique among the projects for including 80 “affordable” units subsidized by tax credits, he added. They will rent to families making less than the area median income.

The remaining 52 units will go for market rate – an average of $740 a month for a one-bedroom apartment, $868 for a two-bedroom and $1,150 for three bedrooms.

Because of the tax credits financing the project, McCormack Baron is reserving 47 of the affordable units for people making 60 percent or less of the area median – a benchmark equivalent to single or combined earnings of about $39,420 a year for a family of four.

Such a family would pay $901 for a three-bedroom apartment, and less for smaller units.

Another 13 units will have a 50-percent-of-median income cap, equivalent to earnings of $32,850 for a family of four. The remaining 20 units would be available only to people making 30 percent or less than the median, $19,700 or less for a four-person family.

Units reserved for the 50-percent income level will rent for up to $638 for a two-bedroom. A two-bedroom for the 30-percent level would rent for $343 a month.

The Lofts should have opened by the end of 2013, but assorted delays, many weather-related, put the project behind schedule. McCormack Baron secured an extension of the completion deadline from the N.C. Housing Finance Agency, administrator of the tax credits, and now has until the end of this year to finish up.

The broader Rolling Hills/Southside project also includes 48 owner-occupied homes that will go up on land near The Lofts. At least 28 will sell to buyers making 80 percent or less of the area median, about $52,550 or less for a family of four.

The city, working with the Self Help credit union, hired two local builders to erect the houses. They will sell for base prices in the $160,000 and $170,000 ranges, a combination of Housing Finance Agency and city subsidies driving down monthly mortgage costs for buyers meeting the 80-percent-of-median benchmark.

Four of the new homes should be ready in May. City officials, the builders and Duke University are involved in marketing.

The homeownership component – The Bungalows at Southside – has given city officials an unpleasant surprise on the cost front, necessitating a council vote on Thursday approving a $477,000 addition to the contract for site preparations.

That deal covers grading and infrastructure placement, and originally was supposed to cost $1.7 million. The addition is pushing that to $2.1 million.

Workers had to remove more rock, place more fill and replace more roadway than designers initially thought, Johnson said. The city’s also paying for some additional clearing and demolition work to improve security, removing vegetation that “provides a hiding place for questionable activities.”

Council members voted unanimously to approve the addition, despite some grumbling about it from Councilman Eugene Brown. A federal grant administered by the state is covering the expense.