Commentary: O.K. Carter: Bel Air on Abram brings residences near GM

Market Green

Years have passed – decades more likely – since any homeowner-based residential project of consequence has taken place in east-central Arlington neighborhoods around the General Motors Assembly Plant.

But that’ll change when the first occupants of the Bel Air on Abram townhomes project take title to their new residences – probably around the first of the year.

Located in the 1900 block of East Abram Street a few blocks from the plant to the east and downtown to the west – and within walking distance of the job-laden Entertainment District to the north – the first phase of the 4.5-acre development features five buildings with 16 townhomes that will provide affordable two-and-three-bedroom housing options with a range of price points.

Through grants, qualified buyers are eligible for down payment assistance ranging from $7,500 to $35,000. Two additional phases are planned for the mixed-use development, which will eventually feature 47 townhomes, a community green space, pavilion, dog park and future commercial frontage along Abram Street.

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City officials visualize that the project, a collaborative with the Housing Channel – formerly the Tarrant County Housing Partnership – will serve as a catalyst for other new housing in the neighborhood. The Housing Channel is a HUD certified 501c(3) non-profit community housing development organization.

“Bel Air is a phenomenal housing development in East Arlington where we’ve needed new housing stock,” Arlington Mayor Jeff Williams said. “Most of the homes were built here in the ’50s and ’60s. Now we have quality homes at a great price.”

Those prices? About $195,000 for a 1,300 square foot two-bedroom with two baths condo, or larger three-bedroom, three bath homes in the $275,000 to $315,000 range. The townhomes also have garage spaces. A neighborhood association will fund ongoing maintenance of exteriors, roofs and grounds.

Purchasers of Bel Air on Abram townhomes will have to meet income-restricted guidelines. For example, a family of four could have a maximum income of no more than $60,800.

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Housing Channel President Donna VanNess said the name Bel Air on Abram was inspired by the history of the neighborhood, which developed during the boom of the late 1950s as the General Motors Arlington Assembly Plant first debuted the classic Chevrolet Bel Air automobile. Bel Air and Chieftain, the latter the first vehicle to roll off the GM assembly line in Arlington, are among street names in the development.

The Abram site once contained a troublesome apartment complex, since razed.

Though the 25-year-old Fort Worth based Housing Channel has been involved with hundreds of home renovations, single-family new constructions and the occasional apartment purchase and refurbishment over the years, the Bel Air will be its first townhomes-from-scratch project. Among other incentives, the Arlington Tomorrow Foundation awarded a $100,000 grant toward the Housing Channel’s Building Dreams Project, which was designed to revitalize an area of East Arlington characterized by the highest unemployment rates, lowest literacy rates, highest number of public benefit recipients, and the lowest household incomes in the county.

“Through public private projects like Bel Air, our goals are to not only create quality housing and transform neighborhoods, but to mobilize private sector capital, to create jobs, to generate millions of dollars in economic activity, and to be a force for positive change and economic prosperity,” VanNess said.

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Long-time East Arlington Renewal stalwart Sue Phillips said she was “beyond thrilled” about Bel Air on Abram.

“It’s been many years since we’ve had significant redevelopment in this area,” Phillips said. “With this project and completion of an East Abram Street rebuild, I predict this will only be the first of many such projects.”

Neighborhood reaction to the Bel Air project has been welcoming, Housing Channel Real Estate Director Rachael Fierro said.

“Three of the homes are already under contract and several more purchasers are working on their financing right now,” Fierro said.

O.K. Carter is a former editor and publisher of the Arlington Citizen-Journal and was also Arlington publisher and columnist for the Star-Telegram and founding editor of Arlington Today Magazine. He’s the author of the definitive book on Arlington’s colorful history, Caddos, Cotton and Cowboys: Essays on Arlington.