Housing development eyed for Spruce Street in Greenville

GREENVILLE — Given recent real estate trends, the town of Greenville has been experiencing a lack of available middle-income housing. 

Many homes put on the market are quickly purchased to serve as Airbnbs or second homes, and designed lower-income housing has strict residency requirements that precludes younger workers from living there.

The Northern Forest Center is working to bring middle-income housing to the community as has been done in Millinocket and Lancaster, New Hampshire. The organization — which brings innovation and investment to strengthen communities and shape an economy that sustains both people and nature across four states — has joined with the town of Greenville, Northern Light CA Dean Hospital/Northern Light Health and the Moosehead Lake Regional Economic Development Corp. to develop a housing unit on 5-plus acres on Spruce Street off Pritham Avenue to help remedy the housing issues near Moosehead Lake.

Northern Forest Center Senior Program Director Mike Wilson told the selectboard during an Aug. 17 meeting the center has been involved with the town for a number of years. The organization has purchased 15 acres of property; been involved in downtown improvements such as facades, boardwalk redevelopment and Crafts Landing Park; lent assistance to Destination Moosehead Lake and the MLREDC; and provided tourism innovation grants.

File photo courtesy of Shelagh Tablot
HOUSING SITE — Woodsy property on Spruce Street in Greenville that is being considered for middle-income housing by the Northern Forest Center

“We do have some experience in this phase,” Wilson said about efforts to create middle-income housing in Millinocket. He said in the former mill town the Northern Forest Center purchased and renovated six properties that serve as 11 rental units for residents and business owners.

He said a $3.2 million project in Lancaster, New Hampshire, will provide six two-bedroom downtown living spaces and commercial space for a food marketplace in a former pharmacy building. 

“We just moved our first tenants in this in the last month,” Wilson said. “It sparked energy and enthusiasm downtown.”

“The issue here is there aren’t houses,” Wilson said about Greenville compared to the vacant properties in Millinocket and New Hampshire. “What we’re interested in developing is essentially middle-income, year-round housing.”

“Our focus is properties and buildings in the downtown with that walkability quality,” Northern Forest Center President Rob Riley said via Zoom from his Canterbury, New Hampshire, home. He said in Millinocket, housing efforts were made to target a health care worker market, and a similar endeavor would be done in Greenville to help address a declining working population.

“We are paying full property taxes on all properties because we feel it’s important to be a full part of the community,” Riley said.

“We anticipate this would be a mix of housing types,” Wilson said, mentioning single-family homes and multi-unit yearly rentals, such as for traveling health care workers.

“We want to think creatively about design, how these properties look and feel,” he added.

“Even though it’s a phased approach, a tough nut to crack is all the infrastructure that would have to go in first,” resident Woodie Bartley said.

He mentioned water and sewer would need to be extended up Spruce Street and funding would need to be found for these improvements.

“We don’t want to do anything in isolation,” Riley said, saying partnerships have been crucial for Northern Forest Center efforts.

“Obviously you wouldn’t have come this far if you didn’t think it was doable in terms of sewer and water,” Selectperson Richard Peat said.

“We know there is a demonstrated need and we know there needs to be a phased approach,” Select Chairperson Geno Murray said. 

He said infrastructure needs to be ready to handle growth in town, citing the current shortage of downtown parking. “We are bursting at the seams with the pressure of parking downtown,” Murray said.

In other business, the selectboard signed the warrant for a special town meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 7, prior to the next regular meeting at 6 p.m., concerning the sale of a police department ATV. 

Murray said a police department ATV needs to go out to bid because the 2010 Polaris Ranger model is worth more than $5,000. The sale of town property over this amount must be done after receiving approval via a vote of residents.

“We’re just looking for permission to put that out there and receive the money,” he said.

Town Clerk Roxanne Lizotte said a minimum bid of $7,000 would be sought.

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