Cumberland councilor leads opposition to Route 1 contract zone

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CUMBERLAND — A contract zone amendment for a proposed housing development along U.S. Route 1 will go before the Town Council for a second vote Monday, April 11.

The council granted developer David Chase a contract zone agreement in January 2015 for the Foreside Village project, a 46-lot subdivision which, at that time, included two phases.

The first, with 45 single-family homes, included an access road from Route 1 and the subdivision road. The second planned for 32 senior-citizen apartments on the 46th lot.

The first is about 50 percent complete, but the second has had changes in the past year, requiring the contract zone amendment.

Chase agreed to work with the town and AVESTA Housing on the project, which depended on the success of a $65 million state bond program, Town Manager Bill Shane said in an interview March 31. When those funds evaporated, Chase set his sights on market-rate apartments, proposing 96 units housed in eight buildings.

Of those units, 20 percent would be reserved for people 55 and older.

It is that version of the project the Town Council sent to the Planning Board for consideration early this year. The Planning Board in February unanimously recommended the council adopt the necessary contract zone amendment, which the Town Council did in a 5-1 vote Feb. 22, with Councilor Tom Gruber opposed.

But when it was found that notice had not been given to all abutters in the required 500-foot radius around the project site, the proposal had to return to the Planning Board, where it was unanimously approved a second time March 29.

The council will hear the matter again next week.

Councilor Shirley Storey-King, whose Middle Street home backs up to a railroad track and Interstate 295 across from the development, said she has concerns about the impact of the apartment buildings on views from her property.

The back of her property is 373 feet from where one of the buildings would be placed, she told the Planning Board March 29, as shown in a video posted at vimeo.com/160883542. From behind her house, she said, she would see the eight buildings, which she called “big, ugly boxes that meet no design standards.”

She opposes development of all the homes, and “the destruction of the ridge that makes up our horizon,” Storey-King said, but admits she does not own the land and could not “conscientiously object” if the project is determined to produce a public benefit.

But Storey-King said she is skeptical of the potential benefit, noting “the integrity of the public benefit in this project has, in my opinion, been whittled away with each amendment, and there have been many. Aside from the few businesses that have been brought in, we have not broadened our tax base, which was the original intent of the first contract zone. Consequently, the public benefit has morphed into it being a public benefit because it is supported by the Comprehensive Plan.”

Storey-King added that the project grew from 30-40 affordable units for seniors in just a few buildings, to 96 market-value units, without much discussion.

Allowing a developer to build a complex of apartments that are “39 feet, 6 inches tall, in your backyard, because it is supposedly part of the Comprehensive Plan – that is not my vision of Cumberland.”

If approved again by the council, the project will undergo site plan and subdivision reviews by the Planning Board, where subjects like lighting, landscaping and buffering will be discussed, Shane said.

The Planning Board could hear the matter next month, with construction of the apartments beginning in late summer if approved, he added.

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

This visual shows the two-phase housing project along U.S. Route 1 in Cumberland proposed by developer David Chase. The first phase, with 45 private homes, has been approved and is underway, while the second, featuring eight 12-unit apartments, is still being reviewed by the town.

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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.