A controversial Habitat for Humanity project on city-owned land near downtown Simpsonville received the green light from City Council on Tuesday night.

By approving a memorandum of understanding with Habitat and the Greenville County Redevelopment Authority, Council’s vote will finally allow the project to go forward nearly three years after being initially proposed.

Council voted 5-2 in favor of the project, with Council members Geneva Lawrence and Sylvia Lockaby voting against. The two Council members, who said they supported affordable housing, cast their ‘no’ votes after some property owners in the area objected to the project on grounds that the site was unsuitable for development.

Lawrence urged Habitat to first consider rehabilitating existing homes in the city, saying that the city currently has an overstock of housing inventory. Greenville County Habitat for Humanity president Monroe Free said rehabbing is always an option, but that usually new construction makes more financial sense than buying and rehabbing homes that might have extensive and costly problems.

Ward 2 Council member Brown Garrett said he fully favored the project. “We’ve had good experiences with both Habitat and GCRA over the years, and look forward to working with them,” he said.

City resident Kay Ashe said the project location is the site of an old dump and is located in a floodplain. She strongly urged Council to let the approximately five-acre site remain undeveloped. She also argued that the land, to be deeded to Habitat at no cost, ought not be given away.

“This agreement should not be considered tonight,” Ashe said. “You have no right to give away property [owned by city taxpayers]. That property should be left as a natural area.”

The project, which could get underway in about 18 months once state grants are secured and infrastructure is in place, would construct 11 affordable single-family homes in the Woodside mill village off Beattie Street near downtown.

The approximately 1,100-square feet, three- and four-bedroom homes would cost between $92,000 and $102,000, said Free.

Free noted that while the project is widely supported in Simpsonville, he has not experienced the amount of resistance by a group of surrounding property owners as he has with this project. He said similar Habitat projects across the county have been greatly successful and popular and he expects the same with the mill village development.

“The city of Fountain Inn supports us. Travelers Rest absolutely loves us. We’re building in Taylors right now and in Greenville proper,” Free said, noting that Simpsonville city leaders, local churches and city staff have been very supportive as well. “But there has been a small, but very vocal, group that have shared their thoughts about it [and oppose it].”

Free said he was relieved to get to this point where the project can finally go forward.

“I’m just really happy, because there’s going to be a place for 11 more families, low-income families, single moms, to have a home,” he said, noting that homeowners must go through an exhaustive vetting process in order to get into the houses.

“Kids are going to grow up in a safe neighborhood. They’re going to grow up where mom can afford to pay the housing expenses and the rest of life’s expenses,” Free said. “That really, really pleases me. I think Simpsonville is a wonderful place to grow up, and I’m excited our families will get to move here.”

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