Grant sought to renovate building in Newport

Posted Jan. 21, 2009, at 10:21 p.m.

NEWPORT, Maine — A Pittsfield couple presented a plan to the Newport selectmen Wednesday night to overhaul and completely renovate an unsightly apartment building at 5 Water St.

Allen Johnson and Connie Young-Johnson, operating as Maine Real Estate, have purchased the six-unit building and are applying for a Community Development Block Grant of $250,000 to renovate and expand to 11 units.

The building would serve Newport’s low- to moderate- income population.

The selectmen agreed to file a letter of intent with the CDBG program, hoping the project would be invited to participate in the funding competition. If it is, a completed application must be filed with the state, and meet all local codes, including providing two parking spaces for each unit. If the funding becomes available, the town would be the pass-through agent for the grant.

Town Manager James Ricker explained that this means any funding would come to the town and would be passed on to the development project. CDBG funds are only available to municipalities, he said, and companies and others seeking expansion funding often use the program through the local town government.

The pair has completed similar projects in Houlton and Guilford without using grant funds, and Johnson estimated that the return to the town would be substantial. “The taxes on that property should double,” he said.

Johnson said he is currently negotiating with the owner of a neighboring property, which borders Main Street, to purchase and demolish that building to provide tenant parking.

The apartment building would be gutted, he explained. All new electrical service and plumbing would be installed, state-of-the-art foam insulation installed and a solar hot water heating system put in place.

“There are 216 families in the Newport area that are unable to afford a two-bedroom apartment,” Johnson told the board. “That is 59 percent of the total renters. In our building, the rent would not exceed 30 percent of the tenant’s income.”

He said he would be installing the latest, most energy-efficient building materials and appliances and there would be an on-site laundry facility.

“This would be a place for parents and children to feel safe and have a sense of pride,” he said.

The building is in very poor condition and one apartment was recently destroyed when water pipes burst. Johnson said one tenant in the building has paid out more than $700 in less than three weeks in heating costs. “That’s unacceptable,” he said.

The selectmen were unanimous in their support for the project and the letter of intent must be delivered to Augusta by Jan. 23. If invited to participate in the grant program, the developers will need town meeting approval for the town to act as the pass-through agent for the funding.

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