Young professional believes in town’s economic future

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

YOUNG AND MOTIVATED — Justin McIver, owner of Main EcoHomes, believes Bridgton’s economic future depends on the willingness of young professionals like himself to invest their time, effort and money in projects like the four-lot commercial subdivision he is creating on the Portland Road and the new energy-efficient retail/office building he is building on Depot Street. (Geraghty Photo)

When Justin McIver eyed the old Ward’s Drywall build­ing across the highway to the south from his Main EcoHomes business at 171 Portland Road, he was thinking small.

He figured he could raze the structure and build another new, energy-efficient commer­cial building like the one he is currently putting up on Depot Street.

There wasn’t quite enough land, however, just a half acre, so he contacted the abutter, Herbert Ginn, owner of Ginn Real Estate in South Portland. Ginn owned a huge tract of undeveloped land in the vicin­ity of 260 Portland Road — the largest remaining lot north of Sandy Creek.

To McIver’s surprise, Ginn was willing to sell all 135 acres.

This was a bigger real estate development project than the young McIver, who just turned 29, had ever been involved in since starting Main EcoHomes six years ago. So he turned to his mentor, Mark Lopez, for advice — and a partnership was born, Vista Investments, LLC.

Lopez and McIver bought the Ginn property and the adjacent lot together. On Tuesday, they received unanimous condition­al approval from the Bridgton Planning Board for a four-lot commercial subdivision — the first of its kind that the board has ever reviewed.

The conditions are that they must show financial capacity to build the 60-foot wide, 300-foot-long road that will serve as access to the nine acres along 759 feet of road frontage that will be split into four lots. They also must satisfy Maine Department of Transportation requirements by clearing enough trees and brush and excavating an embankment to provide adequate site distance for oncoming traffic.

“I couldn’t do it alone and Mark’s a super intelligent guy,” McIver said, in an inter­view several days before the board meeting. “We’re creat­ing affordable commercial lots for sale — that’s the big thing. We’re trying to attract business to Bridgton and help existing businesses.”

McIver said he already has talked to several businesses that are interested in locat­ing in the new subdivision. He declined to say what the ask­ing price would be for the lots, which range in size from 1.6 to 3.6 acres. Each lot will be serviced by individual septic systems, and hook into public water and underground elec­tric, phone and cable lines.

“These will be the best value, lowest priced lots around,” McIver said. If Bridgton’s office of Economic and Community Development, and the new Economic Development Corporation, are looking to attract new business develop­ment, he said, he and Lopez are helping that effort by investing in this project.

“Instead of me sitting back and waiting for it to all hap­pen, I’m taking action,” said McIver. “I have a vested inter­est in Bridgton. This is my hometown. This is where I want to be, and I want to be actively involved in the proper growth of Bridgton.”

That McIver — who returned from college to work at his father’s business, D.M. Electric, and subsequently struck out on his own — is actively involved in Bridgton is without ques­tion. Over a year ago he helped found Rising Ridge, the Young Professionals group in town. More recently, he’s been busy building his new 3,200-square foot, two-story Depot Street retail/office building, which will be framed up in the next several weeks on land where a dilapidated garage once stood next door to the side entrance of Reny’s Department Store.

Mody Botros will be occupy­ing the first-floor space with his About Time Graphics busi­ness, and the Loon Echo Land Trust will lease the second floor space.

“I’m investing a lot of money on Depot Street,” McIver said.

Think big, vision bigger

When Ginn told him he’d sell all 135 acres he owned, McIver walked the property. To his delight, the rear portion of the tract has the potential for nice views of Mt. Washington and Shawnee Peak.

“I saw a lot of potential house sites. I knew I could do commercial lots in front, and use the Ward’s property for access to the back” of the prop­erty, he said.

The plans, drawn up by Terradyn Consultants of New Gloucester indicate that the rear of the property could be used for a future com­merce park. Board member Dee Miller asked Tuesday whether the retained land in the rear should be consid­ered as a separate, fifth lot. Code Enforcement Officer Rob Baker said the retained land was exempt, because it was over 40 acres, and was exempt under Bridgton’s subdivision rule. Baker said there were no restrictions in terms of having to wait five years before creat­ing a future subdivision.

Planning Board Chairman Steve Collins said Tuesday’s review of the Vista Investments’ plans was “unprecedented” in his experience on the board. Typically, the board reviews residential subdivisions, to which the town’s subdivision ordinance is geared. In this case, the only thing that’s being created is the paved road, which McIver and Lopez are building to town standards and hope to eventually have taken over by the town.

“Any future development of the land is subject to site plan review,” Collins stated at the outset, as Terradyn Consultant Project Manager Jon Whitten prepared to describe the proj­ect. “So we’re in that unusual circumstance tonight. Nobody knows (what will be built on the lots or the rear parcel). That will be the subject of future reviews.”

Whitten said the new road will require the filling of 1,000 square feet of wetlands and a culvert crossing. “We expect any wetland fills (arising from future lot development) would have to be separately permit­ted.” Whitten said the wetlands get larger as the land slopes toward Sandy Creek Road.

In response to a question asking about the developers’ financial capacity to build the road, Whitten said he would get an estimate of the cost and the partners will provide a written statement showing they have the funding source.

The board declined to act on a request from Lopez to have mem­ber Dee Miller recuse herself from the project review, based on statements she’s made that were critical of Lopez’s land­scaping efforts at the Family Dollar Store. Miller said she was capable of reviewing this new­est project objectively, and the board let it go at that.

‘Nothing but good intentions’

McIver is aware Lopez, who won approval in January for a McDonald’s Restaurant on the Portland Road, diagonally across from the Hannaford supermar­ket, is perceived by some in town as being insensitive to efforts to preserve Bridgton’s small-town character. McIver said Lopez, who he got to know while serving for six months on the town’s Economic Development Committee, has been unfairly mischaracterized.

“I don’t want to be perceived as this money-hungry guy,” and neither does Lopez, McIver said. He said he’d like people to real­ize that just because someone is a developer doesn’t mean they want to run roughshod over a town’s character. McIver pointed out that Lopez moved to Bridgton and has made his home here, and wants to see Bridgton grow in a positive, sustainable way.

“Mark has given me advice that has helped me succeed. He has become a good friend, and I highly respect him. He’s highly motivated, like me. And he has nothing but good intentions for this town,” McIver said.

Being sensitive to small-town character is a two-way street, he said. “There’s a lot of small-town character in this town that needs to be fixed. Look at the Chapter 11 building,” he said, referring to the Off-Price Discount Store on Main Street that the Dinan family has been unable to make succeed because of the building’s poor condition and high mainte­nance costs.

“I build green homes. I’m sensitive to small town char­acter,” said McIver, whose cli­ents for residential homes are all from out of state. He is currently working with Rich Duffy of Cape Cod, Mass., a summer resident of Falmouth for whom McIver built a home in Bridgton.

Duffy is developing six super-energy efficient homes at Westwood Heights, near Woods Pond on Westwood Drive Road. The homes, which will sell in the upper $200,000 range, “will be built to top quality, and have flair,” McIver said.

Portland Road is the sec­ond most highly traveled high­way in the state, said McIver, with 10,000 cars a day driving through Pondicherry Square.

“I like challenges,” McIver said. “And I hope other business people in town will step up and do their part, too.”

The two men propose creat­ing a single, new entrance about halfway between the 759 feet of road frontage and develop­ing just over nine of the 135 acres into four commercial lots. The entrance would be within a 60-foot wide right-of-way that would bisect the subdivision and run for 300 feet, connecting directly to the retained acreage. Plans drawn up by Terradyn Consultants indicate in writ­ing that plans are to use the “remaining land for future com­merce park” behind the four commercial lots, ranging in size from 1.6 to 3.6 acres.”

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