Nov. 15 hearing set for Greenville housing district
GREENVILLE — The public will have the opportunity to weigh in a proposed Spruce Street housing project with a hearing set for 5 o’clock on Wednesday, Nov. 15 prior to the regular planning board and select board meetings.
For more than a year the Northern Forest Center has been 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 to help remedy the housing issues near Moosehead Lake. The site is 5 acres on Spruce Street off Pritham Avenue.
During a Nov. 1 select meeting Planning Board Chairperson John Contreni said the board has been in contact with Northern Forest Center since June 2022 about the Spruce Street project. “The Northern Forest Center has expressed an interest in developing that piece of property but before they can go forward they have asked the planning board to reconsider some of the zoning regulations regarding that property and some surrounding territory around it to enable a developer — Northern Forest Center or some other developer — to increase the density of housing within that parcel of property,” he said.
Contreni said the 5 acres is owned by the MLREDC – the Northern Forest Center would purchase the property in the future.. He said about a half decade ago the organization sought to develop the parcel but given the current land use ordinance only about 12 units could be built there.
To help bring the project to fruition a new overlay district is being proposed by the Northern Forest Center. An overlay is an additional layer of planning control for properties in a clearly defined area with a specified set of regulations. Greenville currently has three overlays, a scenic corridor, another for groundwater preservation, and the shoreland zoning district.
The new district would permit the construction of 22-28 units on the Spruce Street property, which would make these homes more affordable.
“The planning board endorsed the proposal earlier this evening by unanimous vote 5-0 and I’m privileged to bring it before you this evening to ask for your endorsement as well as to plan for a public hearing on Nov. 15,” Contreni said.
“We’re calling this a multigenerational housing overlay district,” the chairperson said.
Northern Forest Center Senior Program Director Mike Wilson said the select board likely knows affordable housing is an important priority for the community, saying the issue came up during forums held during the day’s economic summit at the Blair Hill Inn hosted by the MLREDC.
Wilson said the overlay “is beneficial to us so we would have the full flexibility and creativity to really think about the project and how we can actually put together a project that pencils out financially and are able to get a project done but would also create other opportunities on the other land that’s owned by the hospital in the area. It would enable future development on that property as well.”
He said the new district would help eliminate as many barriers as possible. The organization would like to see no minimum lot size, no minimum setbacks from property lines, no maximum lot coverage, no minimum frontage, and no maximum height.
Selectperson Richard Peat said he sees no problem with the project but wondered what concerns might be brought up at the hearing.
Wilson mentioned the lack of setbacks as a possibility, with these being eliminated for greater flexibility.
Principal Director of Planning Vanessa Farr said over Zoom that houses would still be subject to a planning board site review so abutters could discuss buffers said as shrubs and trees.
“The idea is to get 22 units in a parcel that currently tonight would only allow 12 so that’s the density issue,” Contreni said.
MLREDC President Margarita Contreni said the organization purchased the land more than a half decade prior for the purpose of creating attainable housing. She said developers at the time said this was not possible, such as at a $250,000 price, even before the increased construction costs following COVID. Contreni said the MLREDC did not think of an overlay.
Town Manager Mike Roy said the Spruce Street parcel is a prime location. “It’s an area primed for development, close to town, school, hospital, walkable,” he said. “ I just think it’s a great opportunity to test the waters.”
Code Enforcement Officer Ron Sarol said the project is a great idea. “I think there’s a lot of land around here that could be used for this purpose,” he said.
John Contreni said after the public hearing a special town meeting would be needed with new language to go into article 5 of the land use ordinance.
The Northern Forest Center would like to bring the proposal before its board in February, and everything should be in accordance with town ordinances before then in order for the project to proceed.
The Northern Forest Center has worked with the town to secure a $991,708 grant from Northern Border Regional Commission. An additional $265,000 to be raised by Northern Forest Center will also help offset the costs for sewer and water extensions, stormwater collection installation, and construction of a new road and sidewalks onto the property.
“To put a project there you are going to essentially have to eat $1 million, $1.5 million of infrastructure costs,” Wilson said about the importance of the grant. “It’s already hard to put a project together and that makes it pretty much impossible to make the financials work on something like this.”
He said the road, sidewalk, and water and sewer would be deeded to the town, “If we can’t pull it off I would say there is a lot of value in the town moving forward with this project and getting that infrastructure in place, getting a road in place because if that infrastructure had have been in place five years ago I would predict the EDC would have houses in place right now.”
In other business, Roy said the public safety building project is ahead of schedule.
“If you didn’t notice it, the lights are on in the apparatus bay,” the town manager said. “The apparatus, they are back in this evening so the first night in the new building for the fire trucks.”
Roy said a truck or two may need to be moved to get some more work done, but the building could be turned over to the town as soon as the end of the month.
He said he is also working on a list of community partners to plan for the April 8, 2024 eclipse. Roy said he has heard 30,000-plus visitors could be in Greenville for the 3.5 minutes of total darkness around 3:30 p.m., including 150 planes flying into the airport.
The potential ice condition on Moosehead Lake is also a concern. “We don’t need 5,000 on East Cove watching and all of the sudden it gives way,” Roy said.
Northern Light Mayo and CA Dean Hospitals, fire and police departments from across the region, and emergency management agencies have been planning for next April, looking at areas such as food and fuel, safety, and preparedness.