Bath council mulls Portland developer's $150K bid for Huse School

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BATH — A Portland-based developer on Wednesday formally proposed purchasing the John E.L. Huse Memorial School for $150,000, or $25,000 less than the city has been asking.

The Szanton Co., which presented its plan to the community at a Jan. 15 meeting, wants to convert the 39 Andrews Road building to mixed-income rental housing.

The City Council voted last April to sell the nearly 73-year-old building – last used by the Regional School Unit 1 central office until 2010 – for senior assisted living. But that deal fell through, leaving the property on the market for $175,000.

The council discussed the proposal in executive session Wednesday and made no decision, City Manager Bill Giroux said.

An agreement to sell the building is expected to come before the council at a later meeting. It would require contract rezoning to allow the density the developer desires, City Planner Andrew Deci said Wednesday.

“We’re interested in doing an historic, tax credit-financed adaptive reuse of the …. school into mixed-income apartments,” Nathan Szanton, managing principal of the company, said.

He noted that due to the use of the credits, the project would be governed by “a very good, comprehensive set of standards … that would ensure that we bring the building back to its original look in a very high-quality fashion.”

The building would have new windows and energy-efficient construction, the company has previously said.

The structure has more than 33,000 square feet of space. It has always been owned by the city.

Szanton’s project, which does not include acquisition of the school playground, would create 54 mostly one-bedroom apartments, with 32 in the existing structure and 22 in a new northeast wing.

About 25 percent of the units would be rented at market rate, while the rest would be income-restricted. A household of two earning up to $28,550 annually would be able to rent a one-bedroom unit for $669 a month, including heat and hot water, according to the company, which has said the housing would not be a Section 8 project.

The company screens its tenants carefully, conducting personal interviews and credit and criminal background checks, and also consults the applicant’s previous landlords, Szanton said.

“We reject a lot of people who apply to us,” he said, noting also that troublesome tenants are moved out quickly.

The developer also noted that Bath’s Comprehensive Plan encourages mixed-income housing development, and housing for seniors and young professionals.

Szanton’s company would provide 65-70 parking spaces, or one per apartment, and about 10-15 other spaces for guests, and tenants who own more than one car. Almost all the apartments would have one bedroom.

“We understand that parking supplies a concern for the neighborhood and adjacent users,” Szanton said. “… We’re committed to providing parking spaces for our residents and their guests, while minimizing the impact on the neighborhood.”

The company will know by December whether its MaineHousing affordable housing tax credit funding application is successful. If so, it could close on the property in late spring 2016.

If Szanton does not receive the credits, an agreement with the city would be extended a year to allow a second application in October 2016, with a closing in spring 2017.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.