ELLSWORTH — The Portland-based developer that built Oriole Way Apartments and is planning a 53-unit complex on nearby Foster Street met with Planning Board members last Wednesday evening to discuss the proposal.
“We had a good experience here so we’re looking to come back and build some more housing,” said Kevin Bunker, one of the founders of DC PreDevelopment LLC, which does business under the name Developers Collaborative.
The group recently finished constructing the roughly $4.6-million Oriole Way Apartments off Washington Street behind Renys.
The Foster Street proposal includes two 12-unit market-rate apartment buildings planned on Foster Street in what is now a wooded a lot behind Shaw’s and a three-story, 29-unit senior affordable housing building that would abut the Oriole Way apartments.
The senior apartments would be one-bedroom units with a shared elevator and amenities, including a laundry room. Rents would be around $730 per month.
The units would be restricted to tenants aged 55 and older on a certain income.
The two-bedroom market-rate apartments would rent for around $1,300 per month, said Bunker, with laundry hookups in each unit.
The market-rate units are “intended to capitalize on the job growth we’ve seen in Ellsworth,” Bunker said. “We know there’s a market there and we think we can meet it.”
But board members and one resident did express concerns at the meeting, particularly about increased traffic and storm water runoff in the area.
The Oriole Way Apartments off Washington Street are having issues with stormwater runoff, said board member John DeLeo, which he said would have to be solved before the Foster Street project could be approved.
“What’s the effect on the roads?” DeLeo wondered. “I think the city needs to do some work on what the cumulative effect is.”
DeLeo added: “I’ve been preaching this for two years now. It seems like it’s falling on deaf ears.”
Bunker told the board that the Oriole Way stormwater issues are “a construction-related problem. It’s not an issue of ‘you built the wrong thing in the wrong place or you built too much of it’ — it’s that it wasn’t built as designed and now we have to go in and fix it.”
The company has made “a lot of progress,” Bunker continued. “The last rainstorm I think it held fairly well. But I’m not comfortable yet.”
As for traffic, DeLeo said he wanted to see information on how many trips are being generated by Oriole Way and how the added traffic is affecting Washington, Foster and High streets.
Nancy St. Clair of St. Clair Associates, which is working with Developers Collaborative, said the group has a traffic engineer who will be conducting a study in the coming months, but that she did not expect that the new development would trigger the need for a traffic movement permit from the Maine Department of Transportation.
DeLeo also wondered how the company came up with its pricing for the apartments.
“What is market rate in this area? Is that a legitimate cost in the Ellsworth area on a monthly basis?”
Bunker did not provide specifics on how the company came up with its pricing, but said “We can realize enough to make them economic.”
To help fund construction of the affordable senior housing, Bunker has previously said the company plans to ask the city to extend a current affordable housing Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district that encompasses Oriole Way to the senior units.
Including the senior housing in the TIF district would reduce the direct property tax revenue the city sees from the units but will shield their value from calculations used to determine state aid to local schools, county tax bills and how much municipal revenue sharing money a community will receive.
One resident did express concern about the plans.
“Our taxes keep going up and up,” said Gordon Workman. “Is this going to be a burden on our infrastructure, on our schools? I don’t think Ellsworth can stand much more.”
Bunker also told the board that the company hopes to receive state funding from a $15-million bond Maine voters approved in 2015 for senior housing. Under the terms of the financing, the units would be rent-restricted for 45 years.
“Putting housing near services and jobs is smart, good policy so we’re trying to make it fit as best we can and try to satisfy those demands we’ve been seeing since we’ve been coming to Ellsworth,” Bunker told the board.
No decision was made at the meeting. The proposal will come before the board again in the coming months.