Cumberland council OKs affordable housing district for seniors

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CUMBERLAND — Councilors on Monday unanimously established the town’s first affordable senior housing district on land it owns near the Town Forest.

“This is probably one of the most exciting pieces of legislation we’ve had before you and the Planning Board in many years,” Town Manager Bill Shane told the council.

The Senior Housing Overlay District – bordered by the Val Halla golf course, Town Forest, a line of railroad tracks and Crossing Brook Road – “allows the ability to offer a multitude of different types of housing, whether it be market rate, or hopefully housing in the near future for seniors.”

The housing could include properties that are either owned or rented, he noted. Such developments could include density bonuses, and would likely be built in areas with public water and sewer lines. With not much land available on the Foreside, the developments would likely be in growth areas in the center and western parts of town.

Recent Cumberland survey results have shown a high percentage of seniors want to remain in town, but prefer to trade home ownership and real estate taxes for property with fewer living expenses attached, such as rentals, Shane has said.

“With 150 people currently on our waiting list for the Hawthorne Court senior housing project, it was pretty clear that we were really in need of this type of housing in our community,” the manager said, expressing hope that “we can turn over … the existing neighborhoods, keep our seniors in our community by offering a better and smaller, more user-friendly to seniors-type of housing that we just presently don’t have.”

Those homes, in turn, could be made available to families looking to move into the community, or to children of residents who want to stay in town, Shane added. That notion echoed a recommendation from Chuck Lawton, chief economist at Planning Decisions, who developed a report for Cumberland, North Yarmouth and School Administrative District 51 that analyzed how the area is growing, and where it should be heading.

Councilor Shirley Storey-King noted that an overlay district does not preclude underlying zoning, but rather allows other options for development.

Shane said last month that he hoped for a project to be underway in six to 12 months. Requests for proposals are to be sent out in late August.

The town could sell the land to a developer, or if the developer proposed a model that made the project more affordable should the town retain ownership, the two parties could negotiate a Payment in Lieu of Taxes agreement. Otherwise known as a PILOT pact, the town would be compensated for some or all of the taxes it would lose by not having the property on the tax rolls.

While the town would keep ownership, a potential nonprofit developer would manage the housing complex, Shane said.

Responding to concerns he has had that Cumberland will become an older community, Councilor Tom Gruber – who has been the Town Council’s liaison to the Aging in Place Committee – noted that the town already is. He pointed to the expressed need in the community for affordable senior housing.

That need could change in a few years, and the focus could move to younger families looking for affordable living options, Gruber added.

“But right now, this time and place, the market is saying, this is what we need. And I’m just elated that we’re going to go forward with this.”

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

This visual shows Cumberland’s new Senior Housing Overlay District, which is bordered by the Val Halla golf course, Town Forest, a line of railroad tracks and Crossing Brook Road.

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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.