Falmouth holding informal talks about affordable housing with developers

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FALMOUTH — Seven months after hearing a pitch from Habitat for Humanity of Greater Portland about a 25-unit housing development on town-owned land off Woods Road, the council is no closer to making a decision about the best use of the 20-acre parcel.

However, on Monday the council did direct town staff to engage in informal discussions with several developers of affordable housing to talk about what a “moderately priced” project might look like and what the developers would need from the town in order to make it happen.

In addition to Town Manager Nathan Poore and Theo Holtwijk, Falmouth’s director of long-range planning and economic development, the brainstorming sessions would also include two councilors, who will be chosen by Council Chairman Caleb Hemphill.

Holtwijk said Monday the goal is for the ad hoc team to bring recommendations back to the full council, along with a path forward. Tuesday he told The Forecaster he’s not sure when that will be since the talks have yet to be scheduled.

While councilors were generally in favor of the Habitat for Humanity proposal this past winter, they also felt strongly that since the property is town-owned there should be a chance for other interested parties to also come forward with their own development ideas.

“Donating this land is a (huge) benefit. We might not get any other proposal, but (then again), there might be another idea out there that makes more sense,” former Councilor Karen Farber said at the time.

Godfrey Wood, executive director at Habitat, told the council this past February that the 25 single-family homes his organization is proposing would be energy efficient and have “modest ownership costs.”

He said the definition of an affordable home is one where the mortgage, homeowner’s insurance and property taxes don’t exceed 30 percent of family income, which, for Falmouth, means an individual income up to $46,000 annually and up to $65,700 for a family of four.

In informational material provided to developers of affordable housing this past summer, Holtwijk said the land under consideration is located behind the Public Safety Facility, at 2 Marshall Drive, and is approximately 20 acres in size.

The site is served by public sewer and water and, he said, ledge and vernal pools are also present. In addition, the property is zoned as a Mixed Use Cluster District, which allows for a minimum lot area of 20,000 square feet per unit.

In all, Wood believed that only about 7 acres of the total site could be developed and he originally proposed putting 13 acres into permanently conserved open space.

Monday, Holtwijk said that in June the town “notified several dozen affordable housing developers of a potential … opportunity in Falmouth … and asked for an expression of initial interest.”

Five organizations responded and he’s had further contact with four of them – Community Housing of Maine, Habitat for Humanity of Greater Portland, The Caleb Group and The Szanton Company.

It’s these developers that Holtwijk is recommending the town hold further discussions with about their vision.

This approach “allows the town to be educated in this area, and permits the town and developers to explore opportunities and a potential fit between the parties,” he said in a memo sent to the Town Council prior to Monday’s meeting.

The overall purpose of these discussions “would be for the town to learn what affordable housing the interested party has created, what it sees as the opportunities for the Woods Road, and what it may need from the town if it were invited to make a specific development proposal,” the memo added.

In its initial call for offers this past summer, the town said it would be willing to work with either a for-profit or nonprofit developer.

It also asked that all conceptual proposals include a statement of how the proposed project meets the community need for affordable housing and the anticipated number of units to be built.

That call for offers also said the town would be interested in knowing the anticipated type and size of the proposed units and the level or range of affordability, along with whether the units would be available for sale or lease and the estimated timeline for completion.

Holtwijk said the selection criteria would include a developer’s “demonstrated experience working with the public sector on affordable housing projects (and) thoughtful site design concepts.”

It’s been 10 years since the town first began considering the possibility of creating an affordable housing development on the town-owned parcel off Woods Road. On Monday, Poore said, “this is not an easy process. It will require an investment in time and resources to bring to light what our options are.”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

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