Scarborough planners like affordable housing plan

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SCARBOROUGH — Avesta Housing’s proposal to turn the historic Southgate Farmhouse property into a 50-unit affordable housing project is moving forward.

The Portland-based nonprofit first presented its plan in early May. On Monday, the Planning Board vetted a preliminary sketch plan.

The proposal would convert the historic farmhouse and two barns at 577 U.S. Route 1 into the town’s first affordable housing project. 

Avesta would preserve all three structures on the three-acre parcel, while converting the house, one of the barns, along with new space, into multi-unit housing totaling 20,000 square feet.

The plan would convert seven of the existing units in the farmhouse into eight affordable studio units, and add 42 units with the construction of a new building behind the house, likely to be connected to one of the barns. A parking lot with an estimated 50-55 spots is also being proposed, along with internal sidewalks and pedestrian areas.

The units will range in size from 350-712 square feet, Avesta President Dana Totman said last month. The qualifying income range for residents would be $27,000 to $43,000, Totman said. 

The Southgate property is in a Town and Village Centers Fringe zone. Avesta is seeking a contract zone for the project in order to exceed the maximum 12 dwelling units per building in the zone.

Another potential modification in the contract zone includes a proposal to build a fourth floor at the rear of the building. The zone allows a maximum of three stories.

The farmhouse and barns are believed to have been constructed between 1798 and 1805 by Dr. Robert Southgate, who farmed on the surrounding land and was married to Mary King. King’s brother, William, was Maine’s first governor. 

The house served later as a summer home for Neal Dow, a famed prohibitionist. It was later a restaurant, and then was converted into a seven-unit apartment building, which is how it remains today.  

Issues the Planning Board examined Monday include the number of parking spaces and where they should be situated, and how to create adequate fire lane access.   

Dan Riley, Sebago Technic’s senior project manager, told the board that after speaking with the Fire Department, creating fire access might require removing the second, more dilapidated barn. But it is Avesta’s “intent to preserve the barn if feasible,” Riley said. 

Planning Board member Nicholas McGee said he didn’t feel one parking spot per unit will be enough. 

“Parking and the 1-to-1 ratio is definitely one of my concerns here,” McGee said. “If you had overflow, where would the overflow go?”

The TVC3 zone allows “a modest amount of parking in front of the building,” Jay Chace, the town’s senior planner, said.

Putting a lot behind the house wouldn’t necessarily work either, without zone modification, because a shoreland zone extends 250 feet from Philips Brook at the rear of property, Riley said Monday. The zone requires less than 20 percent paved, impervious surface in that portion of the property.

Aside from those concerns, board members voiced support for the project.

“Like the rest of the board, from what I’m hearing, I’m pretty excited about the opportunity that this offers,” board member Michael Wood said.  

After approval by the Planning Board and eventually the Town Council, the project could begin as early as summer 2016. 

Alex Acquisto can be reached at 781-3661 ext.106 or Follow Alex on Twitter: @AcquistoA

South Portland and Scarborough reporter for The Forecaster. Graduate of Western Kentucky University and the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. Alex can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106.