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January 4, 2018

Foothills Housing Corp. seeks to buy Fletcherville

This has the potential to really clean it up and make it nicer for the people who live there and for the community.
— Marshall District Supervisor Mary Leigh McDaniel
Foothills Housing Corp.
• What: Non-profit organization that provides affordable housing in the region.

• Founded: 1970 as Fauquier Housing Corp.

• Office: 47 Garrett St., Warrenton

• Staff: 8

• Executive director: John Reid

• Board of directors: President John S.M. Wayland and five others

• Annual budget:
About $1.7 million

• Assets: About $9 million.

• Debt: About $6 million in mortgages.

• Phone: 540-341-2805

• Website:
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A Warrenton nonprofit organization that provides affordable housing wants to buy and improve an entire 36-home neighborhood north of town.

The Foothills Housing Corp. last week signed a contract to purchase “Fletcherville,” along Route 17 just more than a mile from Warrenton.

The organization made a “full price” offer of $2.75 million for the 27.4 acres, which include the former Ben & Mary’s Steakhouse building, Foothills Executive Director John Reid explained in an interview Dec. 28.

Foothills also would pay owner Keith N. Fletcher $275,000 for unused 44 sewer connections that the Town of Warrenton sold him in April 2003.

Those sewer “taps” would cost three times as much today, at $21,600 per home outside the town limits.

Warrenton officials two decades ago made sewerage available to protect the municipal water supply from Fletcherville’s “problematic” drainfields, Public Works Director Edward “Bo” Tucker said.

The town reservoir lies just downstream from Fletcherville, where a half-dozen mass drainfields receive effluent from most of the neighborhood’s 37 septic tanks. Some of the rental homes along Keith Road have their own drainfields.

It would cost Foothills an estimated $2 million to construct a sewer main to town, a pump station and a neighborhood collection system of underground lines, Mr. Reid said.

The housing organization’s contract gives it 90 days to conduct environmental assessments and to obtain financing for the Fletcherville purchase.

The neighborhood would fit well with Foothills’ 48-year mission and its portfolio, which includes The Oaks, a 111-unit apartment complex in Warrenton, townhouses in Bealeton and single-family homes in Remington and The Plains, according to Mr. Reid.

“We were just researching, looking for affordable housing projects” last fall, he said. “Grant Pearse, our chief financial officer, found it (online) and said, ‘Take a look at this’.”

Encouraged by what they learned and saw, Foothills leaders in November first met with county officials to discuss zoning, potential grant funding and other issues.

The Fletchers, who also owned a Warrenton shopping plaza that included the bowling alley, built the homes — most of them brick ramblers — in the 1960s and ’70s. The neighborhood produces a strong cash flow, with an annual profit of about $190,000, according to the real estate listing’s information packet. Monthly rents range from $650 to $1,500, affordable by Fauquier standards.

“I’m impressed with how well the subdivision is kept for a neighborhood of its flavor,” Mr. Reid said.

County government officials want the project to work. The board of supervisors has agreed to apply for housing improvement grants from the state and to act as the fiscal agent for those funds, available only to government agencies.

If Foothills gets financing and purchases the subdivision, it would seek additional grants to make improvements such as energy-efficient windows and new HVAC systems on a house-by-house basis, according to Mr. Reid.

“This has the potential to really clean it up and make it nicer for the people who live there and for the community,” said county Supervisor Mary Leigh McDaniel, whose Marshall District includes Fletcherville.

“Affordable housing is such a challenge,” because of Fauquier’s real estate prices, Mrs. McDaniel added. Foothills “is a good organization; it has a track record.”

Former County Administrator Bob Lee, who represents Marshall District on Fauquier’s planning commission, has taken an interest in Fletcherville for two decades.

“In 1998, when I was still county administrator, Keith Fletcher and the family realized the onsite wastewater treatment wasn’t going to be adequate,” Mr. Lee recalled.

He and the late James Green, then Marshall District’s supervisor, worked with Warrenton officials to reach an agreement for sewer taps in Fletcherville.

Mr. Lee, who joined the Foothills board of directors about five years ago, sees a win-win in the nonprofit’s potential purchase and rehabilitation of the neighborhood.

“It’s an opportunity,” he said. “It’s low- and moderate-income housing, and that’s what it needs to stay.”

Foothills hopes to sell the former restaurant building if it buys Fletcherville. Because that parcel has village commercial zoning, it would need no special permit, making the building’s sale and reuse much easier, Mr. Lee noted.

Mr. Reid said he and his staff have run 15-year financial projections, which look promising for the project.

But, financing the purchase could present challenges. Foothills has a preliminary commitment for 85-percent financing, he said. The organization might refinance its Warrenton apartment complex and take some of the equity to help make the Fletcherville purchase, Mr. Reid explained.

Still, it would represent a complex, time-consuming process. If the purchase goes through, it could take another couple of years to install central sewerage.

The new line would run along Route 17 and connect to the town sewer system near Rady Park, according to Mr. Tucker.

Foothills — launched in 1970 as the Fauquier Housing Corp. — got started making improvements to single-family homes that lacked indoor plumbing. Gradually, the organization grew and took on more complex projects, including construction of The Oaks apartments along Oak Springs Drive and work beyond Fauquier.

The organization’s history reads, in part:

Fauquier Housing Corporation was founded in 1970 by Maximilian Tufts Sr., Roland Tapscott and John Wayland in direct response to the growing need for affordable housing in their community.

Fauquier Housing was established at a time when 1 in 5 occupied units in Fauquier County lacked some or all plumbing facilities. Some of the first projects Fauquier Housing completed involved providing community wells in neighborhoods that previously had no or poor access to running water.

In 1971 the organization issued a report titled “Where Poverty Lives” and concluded: “Fauquier County doesn’t have the worst housing condition in the state of Virginia or in the nation. Its problems, however, are representative of the housing crisis that stretches from the Atlantic to the Pacific and strikes hardest at the lower income families that do not share in the economic wealth and political power of the area of the country they live in.”

In 1990, Fauquier Housing Corporation extended its services beyond Fauquier County when it incorporated Rapidan Better Housing as its sister organization. Rapidan Better Housing is located in Madison County and services Orange, Culpeper, Page, Madison and Rappahannock counties.

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