Neighbors: Scarborough workforce housing proposal doesn't fit
SCARBOROUGH — A 17-unit workforce housing subdivision planned off Broadturn Road met resistance Tuesday from some residents who would be its neighbors.
The Scarborough Housing Alliance is partnering with Habitat for Humanity of Greater Portland to construct single- and two-family homes on 6.5 acres of town-owned land between Interstate 95 and Saratoga Lane. The goal is to build homes affordable to households at Scarborough's median income level of about $72,000 per year.
"Land value in Scarborough is very high," Town Planner Dan Bacon in an interview. "An acre or two can cost $75,000 to $125,000. Tacking on home construction brings you quickly out of reach for the average wage earner."
At a neighborhood forum hosted by the Alliance and Habitat, the project's neighbors said they're worried about whether the workforce housing will fit in with their neighborhood. Some were upset the town didn't seek their input sooner.
"I'm concerned about the value of my house," said Larry Mead, the Kennebunkport town manager, who lives at 6 Saratoga Lane.
According to town data, the median home price in Scarborough is about $290,000. That's $75,000 more than the average first-home buyer in town can afford, according to the Scarborough Housing Alliance.
Properties on Saratoga Lane are assessed at around $342,000 to $421,000, according to town assessment documents.
Steve Bolton, Habitat's executive director, said he didn't have any data about the effect of workforce housing on neighboring home values, but he said he doesn't think it will lead to depreciation of values on Saratoga Lane.
Scarborough set a goal of creating workforce housing when the town acquired the 20-acre parcel from the Maine Turnpike Authority in 2006. The bulk of the land is planned for conservation, with the exception of the six acres at Broadturn Road.
Trish Tremain, a member of the Housing Alliance, said the goal is for the people who work in Scarborough – teachers, firefighters, bank tellers, etc. – to be able to live in Scarborough. Right now, she said, many can't afford to.
“If we look at examples of incomes for teachers or police officers, even if you go to combined income, we're looking at people who have maybe a household income of $70,000," Tremain said in an interview. "In order to get a mortgage, you have to be able to show you're not spending more than 28 percent on housing. At that level, it isn't possible to purchase property in Scarborough."
Habitat's goal is to sell homes at cost, some through Maine's first-time home-buyer program. The price is not set yet, but it's likely the homes will go for significantly less than neighboring residences, although taxes will be collected at the assessed value.
Mead said the homes proposed by Habitat – 1,200-square-foot single-family homes and 2,300-square-foot duplexes, without garages – would not mesh well with the larger single-family homes with garages on Saratoga Lane.
He said he supports the nonprofit's goal of creating "simple, decent, affordable" housing, but believes more can be done to make sure they are a good fit with the area.
For starters, he said he'd like fewer than the 17 units planned.
This project "lends itself to appearing and feeling more like a rental," Mead's wife, Denise Clavette, said. She works in the economic and community development department in Brunswick.
She said she wants fewer units in the subdivision, garages, and individual home ownership instead of the condo association planned by Habitat for landscaping and maintenance. Those changes would make the properties more like the existing homes in the area, she said.
Clavette also said the unit abutting her home should have a 50-foot, no-cut, limited-use buffer zone, just as her property was required to have when she bought it in 2001.
She also said she is concerned about new drainage pouring onto her property.
Clavette, like her husband, said neighbors should have been involved earlier in the process.
"I'm disappointed this has gone this far and it's the first time we've got to have our say," she said.
Councilor Jessica Holbrook, the Town Council liaison to the Scarborough Housing Alliance, said the neighbors were the first group to see an early design sketch of the Habitat homes, and that the development is still very much at "ground level."
"The council hasn't even seen any of this yet," she said. "You're the first. Nothing is done. Nothing is set."
Architecture and engineering consultants from Gawron Turgeon Architects and Northeast Civil Solutions also assured the neighbors their concerns would be factored into any future decisions.
The Housing Alliance and Habitat plan to hold at least one more neighborhood meeting before doing further design and planning. After that, they'll head to the Planning Board for approval.