Council votes to support low income apartment complex


by A.C. Hall

The Benbrook City Council tackled a contentious issue earlier this month as they considered support for a low income housing apartment complex.  The complex would be located along Boston Avenue on a 10.5 acre site that has been through this process before.  Two times other developers have tried to bring a complex onto this site, but were not successful.  

One thing that was pointed out is that this would not be Section 8 housing.  The developer is seeking a resolution of support from the Benbrook council, which in turn will earn him points towards securing Housing Tax Credit money from the State.

An attempt to define what type of housing this would be was made early in the discussion.  The developer of the project, Deepak Sulakhe, showed off drawings of the site and described them in detail.  Called Boston Villas, Sulakhe said the complex would be 144 units, a mix of two and three story buildings, would have brick and stone exteriors, and would be designed to look like single family homes in order to enhance curb appeal.

Council member Ron Sauma also pointed out that the rent in these units won’t be cheap.

“Those are not low income apartments, I want to get that straight,” Sauma said.

Sulakhe confirmed this.

“The rents are going to be substantial, yes,” Sulakhe said.

A resident who spoke out against the project asked Sulakhe to repeat the name of the tax credits program he was trying to get.

“The tax credits are technically called low income tax credits,” Sulakhe said.

More information was later given about the income requirements for people who would live in the complex.  A man speaking in favor of the project said that those living there can’t make more than $50,000 a year, with the expected average income of those living there to be in the $30,000 range.

Sulakhe also spoke about what he called stringent screening that will be done on potential residents, including background checks.

“I want to emphasize that this is not public housing,” Sulakhe said.  “This is a highly regulated project with annual audits and inspections conducted by the State.”

One concern raised by council is the idea of dealing with an absentee owner.  Sulakhe stated that he is based in the DFW area and won’t be an absentee owner.  He also stated that if he tries to sell or flip the property, he’ll be penalized and won’t be able to get future financing through the State.

“I’m here and making the commitment to work with the neighbors to come up with a proposal that pleases everybody,” Sulakhe stated.

Some residents of the area voiced their belief that their property values will go down if the apartment complex is built.  Sulakhe stated that he felt the opposite will happen, and that their values will go up because of how nice the complex would be.

One citizen who lives on Boston Avenue said they were against the complex, as the area already suffers from heavy traffic.  They said they also felt that apartment dwellers don’t take the same care of their surroundings and the area where they live the way that home owners do.

Another citizen from that area sent in a letter stating that they were against the idea of a complex when it was raised in the past, and continue to be against it now.  They felt it will bring traffic, crime, and congestion problems to the area.

Members of that neighborhood continued to speak, with one stating that the council represents the citizens of Benbrook, and thus the council should respect that this neighborhood is opposed to having a low income apartment complex built right next to them.  They went on to say that other neighborhoods that have brought in this type of development have suffered from lower property values and increased crime.

Councilman Sauma stated that he did have reservations about this project, but wanted to point out they didn’t have to do with the developer.

“Every decision that I make has to impact the entire city,” Sauma said.  “My concern is the whole place.”

After a long, ongoing discussion, city staff gave a report to council.  The report indicated that other cities that have worked with Sulakhe all gave favorable recommendations.  Benbrook staff members also went out and looked at one of Sulakhe’s properties.  The staff recommended that council support the project.

A motion was made to draft a resolution of support for the project.  That motion passed with Allison, Anderson, Dittrich, Marshal, and Wilson voting in favor.  Sauma and Washburn voted against the motion.

The resolution of support from the council will give Sulakhe points towards his attempt to secure State funding.  The Grizzly Detail will monitor his attempts to secure that funding and this overall issue as it moves forward.

Council approves capital improvements update

Council unanimously approved an update to the capital improvements portion of the comprehensive plan.  This update includes updated info on projects either beginning or carrying over into 2014.

The extension of Winscott Road hike and bike trails were part of the update.  This will connect back trails from the YMCA to those around the ball fields and will cost $50,000.

Three street projects were a part of the update.  The extension of Benbrook Parkway and Winbrook Drive in the northeast quadrant of the Winscott/820 intersection area was mentioned.  This project should start in April, and will cost $3.2 million.  The funds are coming from the Benbrook Economic Development Corporation.

The widening of Benbrook Boulevard was also mentioned, as this will be an ongoing project through the year.  The total project cost is $23 million, with Benbrook contributing $2.8 million.

The final street project updated was the extension of the alley system west of Usher Street.  This alley will run from Usher to Benbrook Boulevard.  The city will put $77,000 towards the project, with adjoining property owners contributing $13,000.

The final project mentioned in the update is the Bryant Street storm drain project.  This $122,000 project will include curb inlets and storm drains, and is expected to begin in April.