Town apartment development uncertain

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An updated design pending approval shows how a proposed apartment building would look at 215 S. Madison St. in Fortville.

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FORTVILLE — Soaring construction costs spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic are prompting proposed changes to a 50-unit apartment building planned in town. Officials’ hesitation toward some of those changes is leaving the development’s future uncertain.

MVAH Holding LLC, a subsidiary of MVAH Partners located in West Chester Township, Ohio, received $1 million in tax credits from the state of Indiana last year for the firm to sell to help fund the development. The award is part of Fortville, Greenfield and Hancock County’s inclusion in the state’s Stellar Communities program, which provides funds and funding opportunities for community improvement projects.

Called Madison Lofts, the four-story building is planned to offer 50 units, down from an initial total of 58, at 215 S. Madison St., just west of CVS.

Per the terms of the state’s tax credit award program, the building’s one- and two-bedroom apartments will be reserved for tenants making between 30% and 80% of area median income. Rents will be reduced based on tenants’ incomes, but not subsidized by government programs.

Much has happened since the project was first proposed in 2020 and awarded funding in 2021.

“It’s the COVID world,” said Pete Schwiegeraht of MVAH Partners, addressing the Fortville Advisory Plan Commission Wednesday night.

The firm has seen around a 30% increase in construction costs over the past 12 months, he continued, adding materials have become scarce and expensive to find.

MVAH is proposing several changes to make the development economically viable once again.

Initial plans for Madison Lofts called for a flat roof with a rubber membrane. Schwiegeraht said he’s hearing the material won’t be available for another nine to 12 months, and those who are finding it are paying exponentially more.

In light of that, the developer is asking Fortville officials to allow a pitched roof, which would raise the building’s height from 45 feet to 53 feet.

The developer behind an apartment building proposed for Fortville is asking officials to allow the design to change from a flat roof, as depicted on the left, to a pitched roof, as depicted on the right.
Submitted image

The building’s height was already a source of debate when the project first started being discussed publicly, as it would be one of the tallest in town.

MVAH is also asking the town to allow CraneBoard siding on the building’s exterior, which is less expensive than the initially planned fiber cement siding. CraneBoard contains vinyl, a material town officials have often rejected amid development proposals in recent history, although leaders and Schwiegeraht noted at the plan commission meeting that CraneBoard is of a higher quality than wholly vinyl siding.

Stormwater detention on the site was originally planned to be accomplished via an underground concrete pipe, something Schwiegeraht said would have cost around $75,000 a couple years ago. Now, the cost would be three or four times higher, he added.

The developer proposes a ground-level dry basin that would completely drain following storm events.

Schwiegeraht said the project would save hundreds of thousands of dollars from the changes to the roof and stormwater detention.

“It helps us assure timely delivery, it helps us stay within budget,” he said. “And if we can’t get within budget, the project, simply, we have challenges to — can it even happen?”

Town of Fortville procedures call for consideration of MVAH’s proposed changes from the town council via two readings and a recommendation to the council from the plan commission.

The plan commission voted 5-2 Wednesday night to recommend against the proposed building height change. Britney Layton, Jason Snider, Lacey Willard, Cheyenne Hoffa and Amandia Stanfield signaled their opposition to the change while Scott Meyer and Nathan Sturdevant indicated they’d accept a pitched roof.

Snider said while he wasn’t part of the plan commission when plans for Madison Lofts were first approved, he likes the original proposal.

“It’s very classy, and I think it would be a nice complement to that sector,” Snider said.

But the proposed update with the new roof constitutes a change that’s “night and day,” he added.

“This roof structure just gives us a completely different look and a completely different building, and in all honesty I don’t think it still has that same appeal that we have outlined in our overall grand plan for the town,” he said.

Meyer said while he prefers the proposed pitched roof, he’d be OK with a flat roof as well.

“I think it’s all subjective,” he said. “I like the pitched roofs better.”

Plan commission members voted unanimously to recommend against the CraneBoard siding.

“I do appreciate that it is a better vinyl siding,” Stanfield said. “…But after install, the naked eye is not going to know the difference; it still looks like vinyl siding.”

The plan commission unanimously supported the stormwater change.

At Fortville Town Council’s meeting Tuesday night, members did not hold a first reading on the proposed changes but did entertain a motion regarding the building height alteration. A 2-2 vote followed, with Becky Davis and Robert Holland against a higher structure and Fritz Fentz and Tonya Davis accepting of it. Libby Wyatt was absent.

Holland said he likes the original plan and that the proposed changes would negatively impact the development’s aesthetics. He added the building will set the tone for what’s ultimately hoped to follow. That includes an apartment building for seniors to the west of Madison Lofts, which MVAH sought funding from the state for last year as well but was not awarded. Schwiegeraht said MVAH plans to apply again this year.

The town would also like to foster mixed-use residential and commercial development to the south of the apartments.

“What’s being proposed looks like something more like a residential apartment complex,” Holland said of MVAH’s suggested changes. “There’s nothing special. Not to say it’s not a good project, but it’s just nothing that stands out to me.”

Becky Davis has opposed the project since its initial introduction. She takes issue with the state’s and others’ description of the proposal as workforce housing, a term she doesn’t think should apply to those with incomes as low as 30% of area median income.

“I don’t have anything against people who don’t make a lot of money, I just am not sure we need another complex like that in town,” she said, referring to others that serve residents with lower incomes.

Several members of the public expressed concerns at the plan commission meeting, including Bob Ferrell, who lives just outside of Fortville. He urged officials to stand firm on the original proposal and said he struggles with the notion that a $12 million project is being held up by a few hundred thousand dollars.

“If there’s not enough money to pick up what we have been sold, and what we have approved, and what we have bought, if you will; if there’s not enough money, then I say let them make that decision if they don’t want to move forward with the job because there’s no profit in it; that’s their call,” Ferrell said. “We shouldn’t sacrifice anything that we’ve struggled, labored to get to this point. Why should we be asked to do anything?”