At the Planning Board hearing on the proposed Parcher Street development last Wednesday night, members of the neighborhood as well as folks from other parts of town raised a wide variety of issues. The underlying concern that seemed central to them all was about the real intention of the developer. The project is formally listed as a proposal for a condominium housing project, but the actual design, the resources being planned to build it and the facts of local market conditions make it clear that the real intention is to get the 11-unit project built and then turn it in to a commercial rental enterprise for apartments.
This is indicated clearly by the very low cost of the investment in the construction of the units ($50,000 apiece), the low cost and the minimal character of the infrastructure planned, the lack of any amenities planned (including spaces for children to play outside, let alone for adults to garden or enjoy any outdoor green space) and the lack of forethought for the rules and structure of the condominium association. Further, the habits, housekeeping practices, family needs and lifestyles of people in this region are correlated strongly with an extremely low market demand for condominium housing. It is just not the sort of thing aspiring homeowners in this area will purchase. There is a demand for rental units and Ellsworth should be working to provide low-cost, affordable apartments. But these should be built in appropriate places and with appropriate infrastructure (including, for example, accessible play spaces for kids and adequate handicapped parking).
It seemed clear that the Planning Board was being asked by the developer to provide approval for a construction that in practice would be a commercial rental project with very high urban density (11 units on a total of 1.25 acres). Such an apartment complex, once actually occupied by renters and a commercial owner, would be inconsistent with the official zoning — as well as the community practice and community investments of the Parcher Street neighborhood.
A developer should not be allowed to build something that is clearly one thing but be allowed to avoid complying with the rules and community norms relevant to it by simply calling it something else.