ELLSWORTH — City councilors voiced enthusiastic support Monday night for a proposed “workforce housing” project to be located behind Renys on Washington Street.
Manx Development LLC, working with Portland-based Developers Collaborative, wants to build a 50-unit complex on 4.67 acres of land behind the Ellsworth Shopping Center. That is an increase of three units over the original proposal detailed in last week’s Ellsworth American. It would have 10 apartment buildings and one community building.
“This is exactly the kind of thing we’ve been looking for,” said Councilor John Moore. Councilor Gary Fortier called it a “great project.”
Kevin Bunker of Developers Collaborative shared information about the project with the council on Monday. It is set to come before the Ellsworth Planning Board for initial review at the board’s Wednesday, Aug. 3, meeting.
Bunker explained he and the other developers are working with the owners of the Ellsworth Shopping Center (home to Shaw’s, Renys and other stores) on this project. Manx has a purchase and sale agreement lined up with DK Ellsworth Shopping Center LLC to acquire the 4.67 acres. The sum of money to be paid for the land was redacted in paperwork filed with the city.
Bunker said there is a national trend of shopping centers planning more residential uses around their properties, and that Ellsworth’s past and future population growth made it an attractive choice.
He said the target demographic for occupants of the workforce housing development are people earning between $20,000 and $38,000 a year. He said this is the first of two planned phases, and that the second phase would be a similar-sized, market-rate housing development targeting area residents with higher incomes.
The workforce housing project carries a projected price tag of $5.8 million, according to papers filed with the city. If the project secures necessary approvals and funding, construction would begin in May of 2017 and be completed by the following May.
Tax matters are critical to making the proposed project succeed. Bunker said developers are pursuing an aggressive timeline in order to apply to the Maine State Housing Authority for tax credits for the project this fall.
Additionally, developers will look to negotiate a tax-increment financing (TIF) plan with the city. Bunker said the project will not work without a TIF. City Manager David Cole called it “essential” to ensuring the project’s success.
A TIF would reduce the amount of property tax revenue the city sees from the project, but it also would shelter the new valuation from state equations used to determine education subsidy and revenue sharing.
Bunker said without a TIF, the city loses 52 cents in state aid for every new dollar of valuation. He said the city, by agreeing to a TIF with developers of this project, would “come out ahead of where you would have been without one.”
“This is a pretty good deal for everyone,” Cole agreed.
In proposing the project, developers said the location of the housing project “provides an opportunity for residents to be near shopping, banking and employment, while also becoming part of the adjacent residential neighborhood.”
Bunker called the property a “gem.” He said many people look at it as it is now and assume it has to stay that way, but that this is an exciting new vision for the land.