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Luxury apartments proposal also converts low-income housing in Columbia County



AUGUSTA, Ga. – The new owners of a Columbia County apartment complex want to invest more than $3 million to build new units, and renovate old ones, into upscale, market-rate rentals on Washington Road.

The Columbia County Board of Commissioners is expected Tuesday to consider a rezoning request that would convert more than 15 acres of land from single-family residential to planned residential development. The land is next to the former Saddle Creek on Washington apartments at 4202 Washington Road in Evans, across from the Mullins Crossing shopping center.

On that land, the new owners want to build a second phase of 216 luxury apartments.

Saddle Creek on Washington was built nearly 20 years ago as a tax credit property – an apartment complex belonging to the federal low-income housing tax credit program. Owners claim tax credits for eligible buildings in exchange for renting to low-income tenants at a restricted rent.

Now being rebranded as The Belmont, the property is owned by C.L. Gray Enterprises of Fleetwood, N.C. The rezoning applicant is Audubon, a metro Atlanta company that buys and manages apartment properties across the Southeast, including 22 in Georgia.

Audubon began phasing out tax credit restrictions on the existing 192 apartments in May 2019, kicking off a three-year “decontrol” period in which Audubon can’t remove the legacy tax credit tenants. But since then, more than 50% of the tenants have moved, according to the project description Audubon filed with Columbia County. Those vacated units are being refurbished into upscale dwellings.

According to county planners and Audubon, of the 15 acres abutting The Belmont, about 10 acres is considered suitable for building because of floodplain and wetland constraints. The proposed 216 additional units would include “seven three-story buildings; a clubhouse with fitness center and resort-style pool; and four garage buildings with a total of 24 garage parking spaces,” Audubon wrote in its proposal.

Creekside at Augusta West, an apartment complex off Augusta West Parkway, also is being redeveloped by Audubon in a similar way as The Belmont but under a new name, The Jasper.

“In the first 12 months, Audubon plans to focus on amenity upgrades such as new outdoor grills and package lockers. This will also include investments in new landscaping, fencing, stripe and seal coating, and signage, as both properties will be rebranded,” Audubon said in a news release earlier this year. “Over a 24-month period, plans include fully renovating the interiors of nearly half the units, bringing new countertops, finishes, appliances, fixtures and more.”

County planning staff recommended approval of the request, contingent on fulfilling several conditions regarding engineering challenges and another adjacent property owner, American Legion Post 192.

The Columbia County Board of Commissioners meets at 6 p.m. Tuesday, preceded by a 5:30 p.m. public hearing on the county budget.