Avesta invites public to hear housing plan update
By Gail Geraghty
Avesta Housing, Inc. is holding a public meeting at the Bridgton Community Center on Tuesday, Sept. 25 from 5 to 6:30 p.m. to update residents on its plans to bring affordable housing for the elderly and disabled to Bridgton.
While few details were offered as far as what will be discussed at the meeting, that it is happening at all would indicate that the nonprofit housing developer still sees its $4 million, 21-unit project at 247 Main Street in Pondicherry Square as being viable — despite several major delays caused by ordinance changes at the state and local level.
Matt Peters, Avesta Project Manager, said, in fact, that he plans to come armed with a design concept for the 29,350 square foot lot that would meet a voter-mandated requirement, passed in June, that the first floor must be used for business, retail, professional or office use. The actual language of the requirement is as follows:
“On any parcel that is 20,000 square feet or greater within the Village Center District (See Village Center District Map), the ground level shall be used for retail, office, business or professional use. When the development is mixed use, the ground level shall be used for retail, office, business or professional use only. Home occupations and usual appurtenant uses associated with the building are exempt from this provision.” The amendment, which passed easily, was made retroactive to Feb. 20, 2012 — and as of yet, Avesta has not submitted anything formal, not even a sketch plan, to the town.
Peters declined to say how Avesta, which has a 40-year track record and is New England’s largest nonprofit developer, plans to meet the terms of the amendment. But at the first meeting they held in Bridgton this past April at the Community Center, Avesta President and Chief Executive Officer Dana Totman said other Avesta projects — they’ve built 1,900 apartments in 31 Maine communities over 40 years — has reserved office and retail space on the first floor. Totman said Avesta is very mindful of the need to fit into the community where their projects are located.
Peters declined to be more specific on other aspects of the plan, which, when first proposed, called for 19 one-bedroom and two two-bedroom apartments. He said he is aware that residents will be voting for the second time this November on changes to the Shoreland Zoning ordinance, but declined to comment on the new language. And he also steered away from any comment on a proposed Local Preference Ordinance currently being researched by the Community Development Committee.
Supporters of a Local Preference Ordinance said they want Bridgton residents to have first choice to rent units in new affordable housing complexes, but Avesta’s position has held that providing such preference violated Fair Housing Laws prohibiting against discrimination in housing.
Peters said the forum will be informal, and that no special invitations were sent out to town officials for the Sept. 25 meeting. He was unsure of whether other Avesta personnel would also be attending.