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Housing plan draws fire, support

By Alex Bridges

WOODSTOCK -- Emotions ran high at a town hall meeting Monday as foes and supporters spoke out on a plan to build housing for the elderly in Woodstock.

District 4 Supervisor Cindy Bailey held the meeting to hear from constituents about a proposal to transfer the smaller of two county-owned parcels making up the former Woodstock School on Court Street. Supervisors John R. "Dick" Neese and Marsha Shruntz also attended.

Most speakers said they opposed the project because it no longer calls for renovation and use of the historic school.

People Inc., a nonprofit organization in Abingdon, proposes to construct an 11-unit apartment building for low-income elderly residents on less than one acre. Rob Goldsmith, president and chief executive officer of People Inc., attended and answered questions. At times Goldsmith, his organization's intentions, assets and even his salary came under fire.

More than 30 people attended the meeting that, at times, included members of the audience talking out of turn or over one another. On more than one occasion, audience members interrupted Goldsmith as he tried to answer questions.

But many speakers voiced concern for the fate of the school and some asked why People Inc. or the county couldn't find a way to keep it from falling into further disrepair.

Star Tannery resident Earl Schmitt claimed that People Inc. has enough money to buy the school. When asked by Schmitt who sits on People Inc.'s board of directors, Goldsmith said the panel has 35 volunteer members, including former District 5 Supervisor Dennis Morris. Goldsmith said the board includes many low-income residents.

Bailey said that while the proposal will come up for a public hearing Jan. 28, she will ask for more time to consider the transfer. She said she needed more information as well as a study apparently commissioned several years ago by the Shenandoah Area Agency on Aging when it sought to build housing for the elderly on the site. That study was not available before the meeting.

The concept of low income sparked comments. Some said this could attract undesirable people or those from outside the community. Others suggested the county sell the property.

Matt Frye asked why the county built the new health and human services building or the new general district courthouse rather than use the school for either purpose.

Resident Kyle Ford voiced support for the project and asked why people opposed shelter for the elderly.

"I know there's been a lot of opposition to it because people are concerned that it's going to attract lower-income families and they think it's going to ruin that end of town," Ford told Goldsmith. "So it's going to benefit the elderly, correct?"

Audience comments also focused on the difference between the current and earlier proposals.

Goldsmith explained the Shenandoah Area Agency on Aging had planned to renovate the old school and use it for offices and build a similar housing project on the smaller lot. The plans fell through and, in 2012, the agency asked People Inc. to take on the project. Goldsmith said People Inc. could not find a way to renovate it for office space. People Inc. did see a need to build the housing project and sought to use the same grant money awarded to SAAA by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development for elderly residents.

"That plan at this point is pretty much etched in stone," Goldsmith said.

He said each household would need at least one member 62 years or older and household income for two people of about $25,000. The federal government would subsidize rent so residents would not spend more than 30 percent of their income on shelter costs.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com

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