By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
Over the course of two sessions, Tribal Council approved the purchase of over 18 acres of land to help meet the housing needs for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. During Budget Council on Tuesday, March 12, Res. No. 512 (2019) was passed unanimously that approved the purchase of 12.731 acres in the Painttown Community for a total of $1,875,000. Held over from Tuesday, Res. No. 511 (2019) was passed by a vote of 9-3 during the regular session of Tribal Council on Thursday, March 14. That resolution approved the purchase of 5.34 acres in Whittier for a total of $300,000.
Res. No. 512 approved the purchase of Painttown Community Parcels 364, 114-D, and 114-C from Charlotte Ann Saunooke and Painttown Community Parcels 113, 116-C, and 668 from Johnny Ray Hicks.
“This parcel represents an excellent opportunity for apartments and housing for enrolled members,” Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed said on Tuesday.
Vice Chief B. Ensley stated, “This is great property. Anytime we can buy property around the casino, we’re expanding, and I think this will be a good purchase for the Tribe.”
Res. No. 511 approved the purchase of 5.34 acres on deeded property in Whittier from J.R. VanLienden and Darcy VanLienden. According to the resolution, “The property is suitable for housing and has been appraised at $350,000 which takes into account the cost of demolition.”
Discussion on this legislation began during Budget Council on Tuesday where it was held for Thursday due to questions regarding sewer capacity at the site. Voting for this resolution on Thursday went as follows: For – Wolftown Rep. Jeremy Wilson, Birdtown Rep. Albert Rose, Tribal Council Chairman Adam Wachacha, Vice Chairman David Wolfe, Yellowhill Rep. Tom Wahnetah, Cherokee County – Snowbird Rep. Bucky Brown, Birdtown Rep. Boyd Owle, Big Cove Rep. Perry Shell, and Big Cove Rep. Richard French; Against – Painttown Rep. Tommye Saunooke, Painttown Rep. Lisa Taylor, and Wolftown Rep. Bo Crowe.
The property currently contains the 82-year-old Whittier School building which Chief Sneed states “presents no value” and that the demolition of the building was included in the property appraisal.
Chief Sneed said the parcel is flat and construction could begin very soon on apartments for EBCI tribal members as well as workforce housing for employees at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort as well as tribal employees.
He spoke of the importance of workforce housing stating that when the new Convention Center at the casino is finished, an additional 250 employees will be needed. In speaking about workforce housing, he noted, “The direct benefit to enrolled members is in our per capita distribution and the distribution that comes to tribal government for operations which is directly linked to everybody’s pay – all of our employees. So, there’s a direct benefit…this is not just an issue here in Cherokee. For the entire region, there’s a housing shortage.”
He added, “The plan is we could either do apartments that the Tribe owned and managed through the LLC or through the Housing Division, and there would be a return on investment immediately, or we could do tax credit housing where we purchase the land, a developer comes in, builds the apartments, and then, in 25 years, the apartments are then conveyed back to the Tribe. There’s opportunity. The land is being offered at less than appraised value. It’s flat. All of the utilities are in place as well as infrastructure. There’s water, sewer, and fiber.”
Chief Sneed noted that the initial plan is a 60-unit apartment complex.
Rep. Owle commented, “$50,000 below the appraised price, I think that’s a good deal. I know people don’t like thinking about workforce housing, but we’ve got to have that…it will also open up opportunities for enrolled members to be housed there as well.”
Rep. French said, “We’ve got a lot coming on at the casino, and we’ve got to have some place to put these people that’s coming to work. They’ve got to have a place to live. But, I just want the enrolled members to understand that if you go off the Boundary…you are going to be subject to that state tax.”
Several Council representatives had questions as to the sewer capacity on Tuesday. Those questions were answered during Thursday’s session.
Chief Sneed said the Tribe has a deal with the Whittier Wastewater District. “EBCI has a guarantee to participate in the use of the first 100,000 gallon permit and is guaranteed additional capacity up to 50,000 gallons of the second 100,000 gallon permit.”
He noted that, at the moment, the Tribe is not connected at all to that system. “So, the capacity is there.”
Both purchases came from the Tribe’s Endowment Fund No. 2 which Cory Blankenship, EBCI Secretary of Treasury, reported on Thursday is “just over $100 million”.