Avesta still committed to Bridgton project

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

Despite ordinance challenges and constraints on the downtown sewer system, Avesta Housing, Inc. President, Dana Totman, said Tuesday his nonprofit organization is still committed to bringing affordable housing for the elderly and disabled to 247 Main Street, Bridgton, the former Chapter 11 property.

Totman said Avesta will submit formal plans for the $4.3 million project “when we are comfortable we can comply” with the first-floor commercial use requirement for downtown lots of 20,000 square feet or greater, which voters passed June 12 by a 505-345 vote. He did not give details on how compliance will be achieved; the amendment requires that the entire ground floor of new development be used for “retail, office, business or professional use.” Several of Avesta’s other housing projects in southern Maine house social service agencies.

Avesta will also need to comply with new language reducing minimum lot sizes in the downtown shoreland zone, which is currently under appeal with the Department of Environmental Protection and will require voter approval this December.

Lack of sewer allocation capacity for the project presents perhaps the biggest challenge — but here, Totman is confident a solution can be found. “We’re still studying the sewer piece, but I think, clearly, we would like to contribute to solving the town’s sewer challenge,” he said. Currently, sewer allocations already committed slightly exceed engineering estimates of a 12,666 gallon-per-day capacity at the Lower Ballfield leach field that 247 Main Street’s lines feed into.

The Bridgton project would have 19 one-bedroom and two 2-bedroom apartments, and would need a sewer allocation of around 2,400 gallons per day to hook into the system.

The town is looking into expanding the existing field capacity, depending on the results of a study of ways to improve effluent testing/quality. New leach field sites are also currently under review, but are subject to availability of land and possible town meeting action. Both solutions are at least a year away, however; Town Manager Mitch Berkowitz said, in a memo to Totman, that it wouldn’t be until the Spring of 2014 that the town could act on adding a new leach field.

Totman said he and other Avesta officials “had a good discussion” when they met recently with the Bridgton Economic Development Corporation. He said corporation members spoke plainly “about what was important to them for the downtown,” and Avesta officials “shared what was important about how our development would contribute to the downtown.”

Totman said he expects that Avesta would be working most closely with the corporation when it comes to solving the sewer capacity problems, but that “in the site plan review process, we obviously will work with the town officials.”

Avesta had hoped to submit formal plans for the project this spring. Maine State Housing has approved funding that comes with a deadline, but Totman said MSH officials “seem to be understanding” of the delayed time frame.

“They certainly understand that we’re going through a process to figure out what the town ordinances are going to be,” he said. Asked whether MSH would be willing to extend the funding award beyond the 2012 calendar year, Totman said, “that depends on the path the project takes, if it looks like progress is being made.” A formal application will be submitted, he said, “when we are comfortable we can comply with all the ordinances.”

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