Falmouth fast-tracks housing for low-income seniors

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FALMOUTH — In an atypical move, the Planning Board on Tuesday night granted preliminary and final approval for 19 senior apartments off Depot Road.

Usually the board does not grant both approvals in the same meeting, but in this case the applicant, Avesta Housing, was requesting a waiver from the process due to financial deadlines imposed by investors.

The Portland-based company manages Blackstone Apartments on Squidere Lane, where there are 20 senior apartments in five buildings, with Avesta proposing 19 more in a single, two-story building.

All 39 apartments will be rented to low-income elderly residents whose income is below 60 percent of the area’s median income.

The vote was unanimous, with board Chairman Jay Chace absent from the meeting.

Some modifications have been made since the proposal last appeared before the board in July. Development Officer Drew Wing said Avesta came up with “minor changes” to the site plan after meeting with Blackstone residents and neighbors.

Wing also said Avesta has to close the financial agreement by the end of the year, and still has to go back to the Town Council before that could happen. The council unanimously approved amending the code of ordinances to support Avesta Housing’s expansion on Squidere Lane in late May.

The project’s landscape architect, Matt Phillips of Portland-based Carroll Associates, said the site is “more or less the same,” but with a handful of minor changes, including an overall reduction in the size of the new building from 7,700 square feet to 7,250 square feet.

The parking lot was also reconfigured, based on residents’ concerns; increased buffering was added for residents’ privacy; a storage shed for totes will be onsite instead of a Dumpster, and LED lighting will be placed in strategic places around the grounds.

Project architect Jessie Thompson said other than the slightly smaller footprint,  the project is “still the same flavor” as originally proposed. He said the new building is intended to be “a good village building” to match the architecture of the homes in the area. He said it would likely have clapboard siding and gable roofing. A community center in the existing structure would be rehabilitated, he said, with a new laundry room added and new windows.

The 20 original units will also be rehabbed to different degrees, Thompson said. All will receive new LED lights, new ventilation systems and new faucet fixtures. Other work, like replacing cabinetry or vinyl flooring, will be done on a case-by-case basis.

There will be 39 parking spots, as requested by the Town Council. Phillips said a total of seven spots would be designated for handicapped parking. At past council and board meetings where parking has been discussed, residents and neighbors of Blackstone Apartments spoke out about their concerns over that, and snow removal. Only one person spoke at the most recent meeting, but resident Susan Zeamer sent a letter about her concerns over the size of the project and adequate parking for residents, their visitors and guests.

Board member Christopher Hickey had some operational concerns about the project, namely parking and inadequate trash removal without a Dumpster on the property; he considered those to be matters to be dealt with by Avesta.

Hickey said he was confident Avesta would make adjustments, and supported granting preliminary and final approval because the presentation merited final approval.

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net.