Planning board approves site plans for affordable housing development, boutique hotel

Sat, 02/17/2024 - 8:00am

    After several tense public meetings on an affordable housing development in Boothbay Harbor, the planning board conditionally approved a site plan Feb. 14. The board heard from representatives from the Alexander Way development and from neighbors who claimed the construction has negatively impacted their homes.  

    The review passed with approval from Tom Minerich, Ronald Cohen, Merritt Blakeslee and Jon Dunsford. Lee Corbin abstained. The conditions the board set were: proof of financial ability of Boothbay Region Housing Trust (BRHT) to complete the project and a site plan showing the location of domestic water. The nonprofit agreed on the conditions.  

    In the board’s Dec. 13 review of the project, abutters claimed the development was tied to water runoff issues, and the board concluded BRHT return with an engineer-approved plan to mitigate them, as reported in the Register

    At the Feb. 14 meeting, BRHT representative Elizabeth Duffy provided a document stamped by engineer Steve Roberge with enhancements to the plan. She said Roberge’s recommendations include capturing upslope drainage, sump pumps, gutter systems and a series of ditches to capture and mitigate water.  

    “With these drainage improvements, the only runoff water coming from this project would be from backyard vegetation, drawing to the same drainage paths as predevelopment. You should see a marked reduction in stormwater flows,” Duffy quoted from the document.  

    Duffy said the document was created at an October site visit where Roberge and BRHT members met with neighbors to smooth over the issues. However, abutters Suzanne Aleman and William Hallinan told the planning board they were not at that meeting. Aleman said she was not invited.   

    “I don't see anything that they have done so far that is going to help me. It may hurt me if anything,” Hallinan said as he described water pouring out of the development’s stonework during the last heavy rainfall. “Don’t take everybody’s word for it that this is great because it’s not.” 

    According to BRHT and developer Eric Wood, some mitigation work has been done, which he said will do as good a job as possible for now. However, Wood said the project is not over and ditches, a significant part of the water mitigation plan, cannot be built yet, due to construction timing. He said the work may begin in spring. 

    During the meeting, BRHT asked the board to consider financial circumstances in its decision. According to Duffy, the organization needs site plan approval to receive funds from Maine State Housing Authority to continue the project. However, the board needs proof an applicant has the financial capacity to complete the project, which both parties called a chicken and egg situation.   

    “Time is something that we just don't have anymore of,” Duffy said. “We need to move forward and get our funding to get all of this done that you want done, that we want done and that the neighbors want done.” 

    The board eventually decided to accept the site plan review with the condition BRHT prove its financial capability. According to BRHT’s Cynthia Watson, it can comply. “We do have a line of credit that will extend into this and does,” Watson said. “We haven't reached the end of our line of credit. Once we get the funding from the state we should be more than happy.” 

    The board also required a condition that BRHT demonstrate how domestic water will feed into the development. According to the board and BRHT, individual wells for the houses are not an option and challenges with bringing in town water have led to complications, which required clarification.  

    In other business, the board approved a site plan for a 10-room, self-service boutique hotel at 53 Atlantic Ave. that applicants from PGC8 LLC said could be completed around fall 2028. The review was tabled Dec. 13 because they did not have Maine Department of Transportation approval. In public comment, resident John Seitzer raised concerns about the proposed project including around lot size, a view corridor, the number of stories and sidewalks. 

    In addition, the board answered questions about two pre-applications. According to Code Enforcement Officer Geoff Smith, the board unanimously agreed that both construction of floats at Carousel Marina and the sale of those floats to offsite locations are allowed. The board also confirmed a downtown business district property, 32 McKown St., would meet the ordinance requirements to apply for a change of use to open a restaurant in a space currently used for warehousing goods. Smith said the fire marshal will need to approve the project for fire safety and Americans with Disabilities Act compliance before a building permit can be issued for any work. He also said the board confirmed a shoreland permit is required for interior work over the water.