Cumberland may launch affordable housing district for seniors

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CUMBERLAND — The town hopes to establish its first affordable senior housing district on land it owns near the Town Forest.

The Town Council discussed creation of a Senior Housing Community Overlay District at a workshop June 5. The Planning Board is due to make a recommendation June 20, and the council could form the district July 10, Town Manager Bill Shane said in an interview last week.

Districts would be in Cumberland’s growth areas – along the Route 100 West corridor, around Main Street up to Greely Road, and the Foreside area.

Chuck Lawton, chief economist at Planning Decisions, 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.

“One of his recommendations was to try to develop some type of more affordable senior housing alternatives for the folks that are living in neighborhoods,” Shane said, “so that those homes could become available for your future families, and populating your schools.”

Cumberland officials looked at Falmouth’s senior housing ordinance in developing their own, which would require a developer go before the Town Council to request permission for an overlay district, Shane said, explaining that “this way we don’t get overburdened with 45 of these.”

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 the growth areas in the center and western parts of town.

The town looks this summer to put out requests for proposals to develop vacant land next to the Town Forest, about 1,000 feet off Tuttle Road and next to town property that has been eyed for a future Public Works facility.

If a new senior development could offer rents of about $1,200, “I think we can keep it affordable, and I think we can keep seniors in our community, and give them another option,” the manager noted.

Recent town survey results have shown that a high percentage of seniors want to remain in the community, but would rather trade home ownership for less expensive condominium living, he said, adding, “I think the taxes are a real impediment, and if we can get into the rental market, that will definitely help seniors.”

“I’m hopeful within six to 12 months (to) have a project underway,” Shane said.

The town could sell the land to a developer, or if the developer proposed a model that made the project more affordable if the town retained 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 the property not being placed on the tax rolls.

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

With housing inventory in town getting tight, “it’s time for some type of growth,” he said. “And if we can steer the ship a little bit, in a direction to allow seniors to downsize and stay in the community, I think it’s a win-win for everybody.”

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.