ELLSWORTH — A 24-unit development on Washington Street was unanimously approved by Planning Board members on Aug. 8, meeting little of the resistance that had plagued the project early in the process.
In an interview following the meeting, developer Jonathan Bates said he would likely break ground on Washington LUXE at the beginning of September, pending the approval of paperwork from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.
Bates said he would like to have one building framed “before the snow hits the ground” and likely would start on the second next spring.
At a previous Planning Board meeting, neighbors had voiced concerns about storm water, increased traffic and changes to the neighborhood’s character. But speakers at the Aug. 8 meeting had only praise for the proposal.
“I feel like I have the premier living space in Ellsworth,” said Roseanna Rich, a nurse who described herself as a tenant of Bates’ nearby project, Washington Lofts. “I’m excited about another space going up like that.”
In a letter to the board, another former tenant of Washington Lofts said she could not “say enough about how positive my experience was,” adding “I moved to Ellsworth after living in a city and found that Washington Lofts had all the needs I was looking for in my relocation.”
Rich also commended Bates’ construction crews, saying that she lived in the space when one of the units was being built.
“They’re honest, they’re competent, they’re respectful,” Rich said.
Resident Nick Navarre also spoke in favor of the project.
“I like the density,” said Navarre, although he added that he was concerned about pedestrian-friendly space and children walking to the bus, particularly amidst tall snowbanks.
There is a sidewalk running the length of the northern side of the street, opposite the planned development, but no sidewalk on the southern side.
Board members asked Bates whether he planned to have the space be short-term rentals, such as Airbnb. The project had originally been billed as an “Airbnb-friendly facility,” but Bates said he had decided against short-term rentals.
“Six months will be the shortest we will do,” he told board members.
Board member John DeLeo raised a concern over whether there will be enough parking spaces in the lot. The project calls for 1.5 spaces per unit, with 36 spaces total, but DeLeo said he was worried that would not be sufficient, particularly with snow storage.
Bates replied that the spaces would be designated for each unit, and board member Mike Howie noted that the plans meet the ordinance requirements.
DeLeo also asked Bates if anything could be done to address a neighbor’s concerns about headlights from cars leaving the property.
Bates replied that he’d discussed ways to minimize the headlights, such as leaving certain trees and shrubbery standing, but said, “To say that you can’t have lights coming from a car into another house is impossible to achieve in the downtown urban core.”
At a previous meeting, the board called for a third-party peer review of the plans after they did not meet the city’s flood control management standards, which requires post-development storm water runoff to be equal or less than pre-development runoff at all summation points (areas where water collects on the property during storms).
Engineer Nancy St. Clair of St. Clair Associates reviewed the plans, and presented recommendations to city officials, Bates’ team and Planning Department staff for modifications that would bring the project in line with the ordinance. By adjusting the grading and drainage system, the group was able to bring the runoff down at all but one summation point, an area where water would enter a municipal drain on Washington Street.
The ordinance allows for an exception if a downstream drain has “the capacity and stability” for the water. The plans also take advantage of a “credit” made available by a decrease in runoff from a 50-unit housing project up the hill behind Renys, which would offset the increase by Washington LUXE. The board approved the exception as part of its final vote.
The units will rent for around $1,300 per month, said Bates in a previous interview. He described them as “townhome meets luxury hotel,” each with a granite desk and bar as well as a flat-screen television.
“It’s going to be a very high-end facility,” he said.