Overlay sought for proposed Greenville housing project

GREENVILLE — The Northern Forest Center is currently working on a Spruce Street housing project with the town of Greenville,Moosehead Lake Region Economic Development Corp., and Northern Light CA Dean Hospital to bring middle-income housing to the community. The site is 5 acres on Spruce Street off Pritham Avenue, to help remedy the housing issues near Moosehead Lake.

As is the case in much of Maine, Greenville in recent years 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 lower-income housing has strict residency requirements that precludes young workers from living there.

During a select board meeting on Oct. 18 Planning Board Chairperson John Contreni said there was no quorum for the preceding planning board meeting — something the group is working to rectify — with the project on the agenda.

“If we had had a meeting we would have heard from the Northern Forest Center which is involved in the Spruce Street project,” Contreni said. “The Northern Forest Center is going to come before us with a proposal for a new overlay district in the town of Greenville.” 

An overlay is an additional layer of planning control for properties in a clearly defined area, with a specified set of regulations. Contreni said there are three current overlays, a scenic corridor, another for water preservation, and the shoreland zoning overlay district.

“Their idea is to increase the density of housing on that property so that they can make it more affordable for people to buy or to rent,” he said. The chairperson said the planning board was set to have a special meeting on Monday, Oct. 23 and if approved the proposal would be brought to the select board.

“What they are proposing is called multigenerational housing overlay,” Contreni said before reading the preamble to the proposal. “The purpose of this overlay district is to provide flexibility of design to encourage development of a mix of building types delivering increased housing options to support Greenville’s workforce, families, and seniors.”

“You will hear more from us if the proposal passes the scrutiny of the planning board,” he said.

“It sounds like a lot of work but it’s definitely a needed resource in the community,” select Chairperson Geno Murray said.

The Northern Forest Center has worked on the purchase of homes that have been turned into affordable rental units in Millinocket and Lancaster, New Hampshire.

Last month Contreni said the planning board is looking to amend its by-laws to change the meeting quorum for the 5-member group from four to three members. This would need to first be approved by the select board, who would decide whether to send the amendment to a special town meeting vote (this can be added to the warrant whenever a session is scheduled for another matter). The by-laws have been in place since the establishment of the planning board in 1988, and there have been several amendments since then.

The planning board currently has five members but both alternate positions are vacant.

In other business, Town Manager Mike Roy gave an update on the comprehensive plan. He said the week prior he took part in a Zoom call with officials from Eastern Maine Development Corporation.

Roy said he was worried that the document last updated in 2013 may soon expire and this would prevent Greenville from being able to apply for federal and state grants. “That changed before I hung up the phone, all we need to do is an official update to the plan we have in place,” he said.

EMDC said once the comprehensive plan is updated it will become a working document, with sections being adjusted every 12-18 months. “Our current plan is valid through June 26, 2025,” Roy said, so 12 rather than 10 years after EMDC checked with the state planning committee.

Roy said a decade ago about 30 people were involved in updating the comprehensive plan, but an update would only need 10-12 participants including representatives of the select board, planning board, school board, EMDC, the code enforcement officer, fire chief, police chief, and citizens at large.

EMDC can provide the updating for $12,500 with the revisions likely to be in place for a vote at next June’s annual town meeting. 

The select board voted to move forward with the proposal, with Vice Chairperson Newton Pierce and Burt Whitman representing the board on the comprehensive plan group.

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