An affordable-living complex of 40 buildings in six styles is to replace the notorious Gonzales Gardens apartment complex, but it might require borrowing an estimated $45 million to build the project, according to the Columbia Housing Authority.
Design plans call for the 16 1/2 -acre site at Forest Drive and Two Notch Road to have 16 standard apartments, nine townhouses, eight single-family homes, three townhouses with garages, three quadplexes for seniors and one apartment building for seniors with a garage.
The 54, one-bedroom apartments for seniors are key to what the rest of the complex will feature, said Julia Prater, deputy for affordable housing at the housing authority.
That particular building is designed to rise 15 feet higher than what is allowable under current zoning, Prater said Friday. The height is dictated by the housing authority’s plan to build an underground parking garage that fits with the sloping topography on that part of the Gonzales Gardens property, she said.
“To make the (overall) plan work as we envision it ... we’ve got to know now whether we will get the (zoning) variance because that would impact the rest of the project,” she said.
Columbia’s Board of Zoning Appeals is to take up the request Tuesday at City Hall.
There was initially talk of putting shops along Forest Drive, where the site faces Providence Hospital. Plans submitted to the city do not include retail.
Gonzales Gardens’ 700-plus residents have been relocated, so the site’s brick, apartment-block buildings sit empty on the 19-acre site.
Housing authority officials have said the new complex is to be modeled after Rosewood Hills, a Rosewood Drive neighborhood that replaced the Hendley Homes complex. Some 60 percent of the units will be subsidized. Forty percent will rent for market rate.
Residents used to complain about crime in the complex, one of the first federally subsidized housing complexes in the nation. Columbia police reported more than 100 aggravated assaults, burglaries and robberies in the five years between 2011 and 2015. Some tenants said they sometimes would not let their children or grandchildren play outside.
Demolition of the complex hasn’t happened because of a shortage of money. Last year there were discussions about the city of Columbia helping out and Richland County possibly waiving part of its landfill fee for the rubble.
“We’ve got a potential source of funding to do the demolition,” Prater said. “But (we) don’t actually have the funding in hand.”
Plans are to raze the buildings by the end of the year, Prater said.
The federal department of Housing and Urban Development approved the demolition but has no money to build the new complex, Prater said.
‘“Go ahead, we’ll let you,”’ she said was the response from HUD to the request to demolish. “But don’t count on us for any (construction) money.”
That has prompted the housing authority to turn to the prospect of issuing a bond to cover the cost. Prater said that $45 million is “a very rough working estimate” of the construction expense. A final decision on borrowing the money has not been made, she said.
Getting the money and the start of construction will take until next spring, Prater estimates.
The first buildings to rise will be near Forest Drive and McDuffie Street. Construction will spread across the property toward Lyon and Washington streets, she said.
The new buildings will have 270 housing units, down by 10 from what Gonzales Gardens has, she said. That translates to somewhere between 550 to 600 residents compared to the 700 or so people who lived there before they were relocated.
If you go
The Columbia Board of Zoning Appeals is to make a decision that is key to replacing Gonzales Gardens with a new residential development.
WHEN: Tuesday at 10 a.m.
WHERE: City Council chambers on the third floor of City Hall, 1737 Main St.