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Landscape a challenge for Scarborough workforce housing proposal

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Landscape a challenge for Scarborough workforce housing proposal

SCARBOROUGH — Supporters of a plan to partner with Habitat for Humanity to build workforce housing on town-owned land got a closer look last week at the site and the projected cost.

The 20-acre parcel off Broadturn road between Saratoga Lane and the Maine Turnpike is a somewhat damp field, with trees sparsely scattered throughout the land. 

The rear is protected wetland and the border with Saratoga Lane runs along a deep natural swale – a concern for neighbors worried about storm-water drainage and for engineers who may have to squeeze their design to accommodate the low-lying terrain.

The cost, according to an estimated budget provided by Habitat for Humanity, is about $920,000 for site preparation and about $2.3 million for the construction of 17 homes. 

But Habitat for Humanity of Greater Portland's executive director, Stephen Bolton, said the project won't require nearly that much cash to get off the ground; grants, in-kind contributions and volunteer work will decrease the cash price tag dramatically, he said.

"If you take out the large numbers, those that are already in-kind or in-hand, it would be about $650,000 needed, cash," Bolton said during a post-site-walk meeting of the Scarborough Housing Alliance on March 15.

The alliance, and some town officials, say high land and construction costs leave home ownership in Scarborough out of reach for most workers. 

According to town data, the median home price in Scarborough is about $290,000. That's $75,000 more than the average first-home buyer in town can afford, according to the alliance. Habitat's goal is to build homes for households at Scarborough's median income level of about $72,000 per year.

The evening site walk revealed the design plan for the housing development – which includes 17 units, 1,200-square-foot single-family homes and 2,300-square-foot duplexes, all without garages – will have to be adjusted to accommodate a deep swale running along the property line abutting the homes on Saratoga Lane.

The incline of the swale is too steep for a planned access road to the development, and drainage would be a nightmare, said Lee Allen, vice president of Northeast Civil Solutions and Habitat's engineer on the project.

"The road physically couldn't be here," Allen told a neighbor, Denise Clavette. "We couldn't drain on to your property." 

Moving the road could be a good thing. At a previous meeting with neighbors, many Saratoga Lane said the Habitat project would devalue their homes and clash with the existing neighborhood. (Clavette, who has since taken an active role in planning the project, was one of its fiercest critics at the neighborhood meeting).

Bolton said that moving the road closer into the property could leave more room for buffer between the proposed development and the homes on Saratoga Lane.

"This would not be hard to fill with pines," he said.

But the swale could affect more than just the road. The development is planned to fit around a cul-de-sac. Moving the road inward changes the shape of the cul-de-sac and at least one home will have to be moved away from the swale.

There are a few options for how to reconfigure the layout of the homes, including simply removing the duplex near the swale, but Bolton had said that 17 units were necessary to achieve the value needed to make the plan cost-effective.

If units are cut from the project, he said, more money might have to be raised to offset the lost income from home sales.

But Hall said that reaching a unit goal shouldn't handcuff designers from devising a plan that works. 

"If we have a goal that we need to raise so much to see this happen, I think we can rally support and get behind it," he said. "If we lose one or two (units) to accomplish a good design, we can work around that."

Ultimately, the project will have to be approved by the Planning Department, and Town Council will have to OK giving the town-owned land to Habitat for Humanity.

"I'm just pleased to start putting the pieces together," Hall said.

Mario Moretto can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or mmoretto@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @riocarmine.