MRRA awaits response to BNAS housing offer

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BRUNSWICK — The organization overseeing the redevelopment of Brunswick Naval Air Station is anticipating a quick response to its offer to purchase 702 military housing units, a move it says is necessary to control impacts on the local real estate market.
The Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority last week announced its attempt to purchase the base units from Northeast Housing LLC, a subsidiary of the United Kingdom-based Balfour Beatty PLC.
Balfour Beatty began marketing the housing in January, a decision that caused panic among residents and local officials.
Officials for MRRA worried Balfour Beatty’s decision would hurt an already depressed real estate market and run counter to goals of the base redevelopment plan.
Steve Levesque, executive director of MRRA, said the authority made a confidential offer to buy the housing after a recent executive session by its board of directors. He expected a response by the end of the week. If acquired, Levesque said MRRA would demolish all of the housing units at the Topsham Annex and the majority of housing in the McKeen Street area.
Levesque said the authority would reuse 10 to 20 percent of the units as workforce housing and for first-time home buyers. In addition, MRRA plans to set aside a “significant inventory” of units for prospective employers moving to the base, and as an incentive for workforce development.
“We have big concerns that another entity will get a hold of (the housing) that doesn’t have those same community goals in mind,” Levesque said.
Levesque declined to reveal MRRA’s offer, saying only that it was “serious” and “significant”. He said MRRA would seek a loan to pay for the housing. He added that so far MRRA was the only local organization making the offer, but he did not rule out a future partner.
The redevelopment authority and its predecessor, the Brunswick Local Redevelopment Authority, were created by the state Legislature in response to the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure. BRAC slated BNAS for closure in 2011.
The authority is responsible for implementing the base redevelopment plan. Statute governing its operation have also granted it borrowing authority.
While MRRA’s decision has been lauded by local real estate agents, at least one state lawmaker is concerned about its plan to demolish the majority of the so-called McKeen Street housing.
Sen. Stan Gerzofsky, D-Brunswick, said he was worried doing so would decrease Brunswick’s stock of workforce housing and eliminate any chance for the town to collect property taxes before the base closes.
The U.S. Navy owns the land beneath the housing. It currently pays the town in lieu of property taxes.
Base closure is expected to significantly decrease Brunswick’s population. But Gerzofsky said the population would rebound after a successfully redeveloped base.
“All those sailors will be replaced by people working at the base,” Gerzofsky said. “They have to live somewhere.”
Local real estate agents have previously wondered about the marketability of McKeen Street housing, which is comprised of 231 units, all nearly identical in appearance.
Gerzofsky said he was concerned that MRRA didn’t consult local legislators prior to its decision.
The MRRA board includes two former legislators: former Democratic House Speaker John Richardson, who is the current commissioner for the state’s Department of Economic and Community Development, and Art Mayo, a former Democratic state senator from Bath.
Levesque said MRRA’s offer wasn’t a legislative issue. He added that plans for the housing could be discussed if MRRA acquired it.
While MRRA’s offer isn’t the only one, Levesque said, he is hopeful the organization succeeds.
“I hope I’ve articulated what we’re trying to do and why we’re doing it,” he said.

Steve Mistler can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 123 or 

m-bnashousing.JPGA row of identical duplexes line Brunswick’s Columbia Avenue, part of the so-called McKeen Street military housing. Last week the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority, the organization redeveloping BNAS, made an offer to buy all of the 702 units currently on the market. If MRRA’s bid is successful, most of the 231 units in the McKeen Street area would be demolished. (Lear photo)