2013-06-11 / Front Page

Topsham board reviews housing project for seniors

BY DARCIE MOORE Times Record Staff


SEACOAST MANAGEMENT COMPANY’S rendering of its proposed River Landing affordable senior housing project that went before the Topsham Planning Board for sketch plan review Tuesday. It would involve tearing down the former Amenity Manor nursing home on Elm Street and building a new building that would take up about half the footprint but would be 2.5 stories high (third floor is built into roof with dormers). 
CONTRIBUTED ARTWORK SEACOAST MANAGEMENT COMPANY’S rendering of its proposed River Landing affordable senior housing project that went before the Topsham Planning Board for sketch plan review Tuesday. It would involve tearing down the former Amenity Manor nursing home on Elm Street and building a new building that would take up about half the footprint but would be 2.5 stories high (third floor is built into roof with dormers). CONTRIBUTED ARTWORK TOPSHAM

Town officials last week got an early look at a TIF-supported housing project for seniors that could open by late 2014 on Elm Street.

The Planning Board reviewed a sketch plan June 4 from Seacoast Management Company to purchase and tear down the former Amenity Manor nursing home property at 29 Elm St., and replace it with 32 to 36 apartments for senior citizens.

The River Landing Senior Community would be two and a half stories with an 11,000- square-foot area — half the size of the current footprint.

Matt Teare of Seacoast Management said the company is working with Kevin Bunker of the Portland-based Developers Collaborative.

River Landing would include some two-room apartments but mostly single-room apartments, and would be funded with a Low Income Housing Tax Credit program administered by the Maine State Housing Authority. Most of the apartments would be rented for $600 to $700 per month with utilities included.

“As we were watching Amenity Manor sit there and nothing happen with it,” Teare said, Bunker saw the potential and said “we should take a look at this and make sure something positive happens on this site.”

The No. 1 issue, Teare said, is that the building they are planning will be taller than the current building.

Town Planner Rich Roedner said Planning Board members at last week’s meeting appeared supportive of the project, he said, raising traffic and setbacks as potential issues.

Setback concerns

The developers seek a setback of 10 feet from the road.

“The setback concern was that a large building, close to the road, would be overly imposing on the road and sidewalk,” Roedner said, adding that the applicant will look at placing the building closer to the town’s 20-foot setback requirement.

Teare told The Times Record that Seacoast has already held neighborhood meetings regarding the project. “We have to be sensitive of the scale of our neighbors,” he said.

The project falls within the Historic District, so Seacoast will go before the town’s Historic District Commission for a hearing Wednesday seeking a Certificate of Appropriateness for the demolition of the current property at 29 Elm St., and its redevelopment plan.

The old house on the site was built in 1888 but the nursing home facility attached to it was built in 1977-78 and is not considered historic.

On the market

John Shattuck, the town’s economic and community development director, told selectmen Thursday the property had been on the market since the nursing home closed two years ago.

Developers are seeking a tax increment financing deal that would rebate 50 percent of property taxes to the developer for 17 years, contemplating two years of construction time and 15 years of operation.

The TIF money would support the operation costs of the project, Shattuck said.

“These kinds of projects are not thick on the grab. They’re heavily supported by grants, TIFs and tax credits exactly because they don’t cash-flow at market costs,” Shattuck said. “These incentives are being designed to bring these programs online by affordable housing.”

Shattuck said the TIF is “key to this type of project going forward because the TIF provides points that enables the developer to get the tax credits that are key to actually doing this project.”

Bunker told selectmen what the TIF developers are seeking is for the minimal amount it would take to get the three points in scoring through MaineHousing.

‘An opportunity’

“There’s an opportunity for the town to shoulder its portion of (the project) to do things we already have to do: paving Elm Street, updating the sidewalks, building out — if we choose to do that — the trail that we’re studying the feasibility of that would connect up to Elm Street through this area,” Shattuck said.

“We have a major culvert drainage problem” that happens to abut on the edge of 29 Elm St., and the gully between the property and cemetery where the slope “is fairly unstable,” and could be a costly fix, he said.

Shattuck told selectmen the project will have to go before the Planning Board three or four times; once or twice before the Historic District Commission and selectmen at least four times either for updates or public hearings, “and would be subject to the approval of the special town meeting in September.”

Benefit the town

Selectman Donald Russell said there is no question the project would benefit the town. The former nursing home building “isn’t going to heal itself as it sits there,” he said. “Personally, I think it’s a good project.”

Selectman James Trusiani said, “We need to do what’s right to get this project going.”

Trusiani said his concerns were alleviated during Thursday’s discussion and made a motion to continue the process of development an affordable housing TIF agreement and permitting the project pursuant to the schedule as presented to go forward. Selectmen voted 5-0 in favor of the motion.

Teare said Seacoast has a purchase-and-sale agreement for 29 Elm St., and will soon have to make a decision regarding the purchase.

If the development company moves forward, it would purchase the property this summer.

If the TIF wins approval at a town meeting, it would submit its application to the MaineHousing in September and hear about that application at the end of the year.

Developers would break ground around this time next year for a potential opening in late 2014 or early 2015.

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