Cumberland council puts brakes on Tuttle Road project

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CUMBERLAND — The Town Council on Monday unanimously tabled a decision about a joint development agreement for a piece of town land adjacent to Town Hall.

The move is likely to delay a decision for as much as a year, the town manager said.

But councilors made it clear they intend to work with Kevin Bunker of Portland-based Developers Collaborative on the project once the town has a better idea what sort of development it wants on the 32-acre parcel on the southwestern side of Tuttle Road.

Town officials have eyed a senior housing development for the property, across the street from where the developer of the OceanView at Falmouth retirement community is proposing up to 50 cottage homes in the first of a two-phase project called OceanView at Cumberland.

The town land development, as officials proposed late last year, would have presented more affordable options, with a building of 36 one-bedroom apartments from 650-800 square feet, as well as duplexes for both rent (about $1,300-1,400 monthly) and purchase (about $275,000).

But 55 percent of the 85 residents who participated in an Oct. 25 straw poll opposed development of the town property, saying the land should be retained for a future, undecided use, or preserved as open space. Residents at a council meeting last month echoed those opinions, advising councilors to slow the potential pace of development in town, particularly on Tuttle Road.

Those sentiments helped influence councilors to vote 4-3 last month to set a public hearing for Monday to vote on the agreement with Developers Collaborative.

The divided decision prompted Bunker to ask the council to table the matter, he told the panel Monday.

“It’s been an interesting process; it’s been sort of one twist and turn after another,” Bunker said, noting revisions he has made to the proposal in recent months.

While he thought the latest version appealed to the council, last month’s vote to set the hearing “was divided enough to where I felt uncomfortable because it wasn’t the unanimity that I seek,” he said, “and it wasn’t the unanimity that I thought we had going on.”

He also said “I have enough of a sense that the thing went pretty far pretty fast. … That’s great when there’s unanimity, when there aren’t lingering questions about the future of this, or the disposition of that. And in this case, there are questions.”

While he can see a desire for some sort of development on the parcel, consensus on what exact shape that should take is lacking, Bunker noted.

“I think this (project) is one that just needs a little more time,” he added.

Having spoken with his fellow councilors on the matter, George Turner told the developer he felt “whatever might be done, it’s unlikely at this point that we’re going to be able to get a project there that will be acceptable to us for at least three or four years, maybe something less than that.”

He noted that the town purchased the land to develop it, pointing to the council’s interest in senior housing, as well as a location for a new public works facility. The town had eyed a 10-acre vacant site at the Cumberland Fairgrounds for such a project, but the Cumberland Farmers Club’s almost unanimous rejection of that proposal last October raised continued questions about where to place that complex as well, Turner explained.

“When you’ve got uncertainty along those lines, and you have the feedback from (the straw poll), it leaves the council, at the very best, conflicted,” he added.

Councilor Tom Gruber said he does not “have the appetite to wait three or four years. … There is a real need for affordable senior housing in this community.”

He acknowledged the town must “re-assess what we need to do, and really understand what we need here in this community. Relocation of public works is a priority by this council, and where we put that we still don’t know.”

Gruber added that he did not want to lose the services provided by Bunker, praising his ability and vision, which could “help this council come up with a solution that’s going to benefit the entire Cumberland community.”

On behalf of the council, Gruber told Bunker, “we feel that you are the right developer for this project, whatever this project may be.”

Town Manager Bill Shane said in an interview Jan. 5 that he hoped for continued discussions between the council and Bunker, as well as additional citizen meetings, “and maybe coming back by the end of the year with a new plan with additional community input.”

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.