Habitat proposes ‘affordable community’ in Falmouth

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FALMOUTH — Habitat for Humanity of Greater Portland would like to partner with the town to build a 25-unit housing development on municipally owned land behind the public safety building on Woods Road.

The proposal is the latest request in a series of proposals to build an affordable community of homes in Falmouth. About 10 years ago the town was approached by the Developer’s Collaborative about building 44 homes on the site, that would include a few constructed by Habitat, but that idea was eventually nixed.

While councilors were generally in favor of the current concept during their Feb. 26 meeting, they also felt strongly that since the property is town-owned there must be a request for proposals from other interested parties first.

“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,” Councilor Karen Farber said last week.

She also said the town should include a reversion clause just in case the Habitat project falls through. However, Farber is also interested in at least considering the new request, saying “it’s time we move forward.”

The other councilors present agreed, and Council Chairman Caleb Hemphill wrapped up the discussion by saying the potential development “has considerable merit and is an innovative proposal.”

Called Woodside, the development would include up to 25 single-family homes that would be energy efficient and have what Godfrey Wood, the executive director at Habitat, called “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.

For Falmouth, Wood said, that would mean an individual income up to $46,000 annually and up to $65,700 for a family of four.

He said if the town is willing to donate the 20-acre site that’s adjacent to the public safety building, priority of ownership would be given to those with ties to Falmouth. Those include town employees, local business owners and former residents, Wood said.

In addition, Habitat would set aside about 13 acres of the property as permanently conserved open space, he said.

Wood said the homes in the development would be of “traditional neighborhood design” with front porches and “traditional detailing, including dormers, bay windows, double-hung windows (and) clapboard siding.”

He said the homes to be built would range between 1,300 and 1,400 square feet and most would include three bedrooms and 1 1/2 to two baths. Wood also said homeowners would be able to choose from four different designs.

Habitat is currently building a similar, 13-lot subdivision on town-owned land in Scarborough, and the project proposed for Falmouth would be almost identical to that one, according to Wood.

He said benefits of the project include providing affordable housing options in town, as well as about $87,500 per year in property taxes.

Farber and Councilor Claudia King said what they most like about the current Habitat proposal is that there’s no request for exemptions from current zoning rules or for any other special treatment, except donation of the town land.

Wood said in terms of the development costs, “Habitat takes all the construction, infrastructure, financing and marketing risk.”

The goal, he said, is to build homes that are “within reach of middle-income families,” adding that “our homes sell at appraised prices, with no profit.”

In addition, Habitat mandates that all homeowners put in at least 275 hours of sweat equity in building their home, Wood said.

He ended his presentation to the council with one simple question:

“Will you partner with us for a better Falmouth?”

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

Habitat for Humanity of Greater Portland wants to build a community of affordable homes like these on town-owned land off Wood Road in Falmouth.

Habitat for Humanity of Greater Portland’s proposal would include building up to 25 single-family homes, while conserving the majority of the land for open space.