Cumberland council to vote on accepting school building, zoning change

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CUMBERLAND — The Town Council will vote Monday, Sept. 12, on whether to accept the Drowne Road School back from School Administrative District 51, and on adding the school to the town’s Village Mixed Use Zone.

The vote follows the council’s approval of a lease last month with Portland-based Bateman Partners, which wants to convert the 17,600-square-foot Drowne Road School to senior housing.

The project would be the last of three phases in the Village Green Revitalization Master Plan, although the first phase is still before the town and awaiting permits from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and the second will likely come after the first and third phases.

In the first phase, the 40.7-acre Doane property will be developed as a 59-lot residential subdivision with a mix of single-family and duplex homes. The Public Works and school bus facilities would be moved in the second. Six single-family and 12 duplex homes would be built in their place, along with a nearly 43,000-square-foot mixed-use building that would house 20 residential rental units and 14,300 square feet of office or retail space.

The SAD 51 Board of Directors voted last year to close the school and use it for other purposes, and to move the third grade to the Mabel I. Wilson School. Voters in the Cumberland-North Yarmouth school district supported the decision in June. As a result, the building has reverted back to the town.

The Drowne Road School started as a school, then was a Town Hall before reverting again to a school after the current Town Hall was built in the late 1990s. The town borrowed to construct the Town Hall and to renovate and expand the Drowne Road School.

While it used the school, SAD 51 made annual payments to the town for the work done on that building; $480,000 remains on the $1.7 million renovation bond.

According to the terms of its lease, Bateman will pay the $480,000. It will also pay the town between $22,000 to $25,000 each year in lieu of taxes, with a negotiated escalation clause to cover annual local tax increases. As long as the town owns the property it cannot receive taxes from it, hence the payment in lieu of taxes.

The lease the Town Council approved called for an $80,000 payment in lieu of taxes, but Town Manager Bill Shane on Monday said that number was “an overly optimistic projection based really not on operational costs, but just solely on the value of the building.”

The town now has firmer numbers, he noted, adding that “the reality is that building, that 38 units of housing, doesn’t generate the revenues to sustain an $80,000 annual tax payment for affordable senior housing rentals.”

That change will be reflected in an amended lease with Bateman that the Town Council will vote on Monday.

Also that night, the council will decide whether to add the Drowne Road School to the adjacent Village Mixed Use Zone. The addition would allow work on that building to proceed without a contract zone.

Another change in the lease agreement is to extend the lease to 99 years. Shane said that Maine State Housing – from which Bateman is seeking a loan for its work on the school building – prefers a longer lease in order to make such an investment.

Monday’s meeting will take place at Town Hall at 7 p.m. A workshop with the town attorney regarding Bateman’s master development plan and revitalization of the school will precede the meeting at 6 p.m.

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.