Mohney: Town short on affordably good homes

Looking to bring “affordable” housing to Farragut, Knoxville developer Bob Mohney, has been building homes in Farragut for about 30 years and said he has seen a change in the demand for affordable homes in Town.

However, town of Farragut’s zoning ordinances have not changed so the cost of homes being built are too high for these people to purchase, he said.

“We’ve never been able to build [affordable and accessible homes] in Farragut, and now with the economic growth the country’s had and the cost of new construction, you certainly cannot do it today with the restrictions and regulations that exist on zoning in Farragut,” Mohney, president of Saddlebrook Properties, said.

“The sad part is, this [building more affordable housing] is happening all over the country, including Nashville and every other metropolitan area, but you can’t do it in Farragut,” he said. “Farragut’s too restrictive.

“And, in Farragut, the young people who grew up out there, after finishing college and getting a job, can’t even buy a new home [in Farragut]. There are no new home options for them to live in the community they’re raised in.”

Mohney said he is talking about building traditional-style homes costing in the $200,000 range.

“We want to get zoning that allows us to build affordable housing in Farragut; and to get them affordable, that means you have to have a higher density, better setback allowances and less regulation so that the houses truly can be built and priced so they are more affordable to the general public,” he said.

He approached Farragut Municipal Planning Commission during its meeting Thursday, Dec. 15, along with Russ Rackley, civil engineer and president of Rackley Engineering in Knox-ville, about the Town’s zoning regulations.

“I thought the Planning Commission asked some great questions and they were open minded as far as continuing the discussion [on rezoning for affordable housing developments],” Mohney said. “Some of the commissioners certainly agree there is a need to offer affordable housing in the town of Farragut.”

While FMPC took no action on the zoning change requests, Commissioner Louise Povlin said she sees how the developments should be in their own zoning district, whether that be overlay or a new zoning district all together.

While density would depend on topography of the property, Mohney said he is looking at building five to six unattached units per acre with the houses ranging anywhere from 1,800 to 2,600 square feet. The lots could vary but be anywhere from around 35 to 40 feet wide.

“They need to have features in homes that are popular today,” he said. “People want to buy new construction because they get contemporary materials that are not outdated.

“If a young person has to buy a house of that price point in Farragut today, they have to buy an older home with very high-maintenance costs and inefficient operations in the house,” Mohney added. “And, if you buy a home in that price point, you can’t afford to bring it up to the standards that are set in new construction today.

“... With a good land plan, you can position the houses ... to make them attractive.”

Currently, the Town requires 20 feet between houses.

Mohney said he does have “a piece of ground under option in Farragut this [development] would work on.”

While Mohney said he could not disclose the proposed location at this time, he would start building homes as soon as the zoning changes are approved.

While amenities would be determined by the subdivision regulations, Mohney said, “If you are going to buy a $200,000 house, you don’t necessarily live in a community that has all the amenities because that raises the price of the homes.

“The focus here needs to be on affordable housing, and there could be some amenities in the community but it would depend on the size of the community and the geography of it,” he added.

Building more affordable homes would be a win-win-win for Farragut and its residents, he said. Providing more homes means bringing in more consumers spending money in Town and increasing the Town’s tax base. With more revenues, the Town could provide more services to residents.

“In [Knox] County, you only need 10 feet between the houses, so we need something that’s more practical to go along with the county,” Mohney said. He recommended setbacks of five feet on each side of a house.

Mohney also wants to change the Town’s current front setback requirement from 30 feet to 20 feet.