Brewer councilors spar over zoning

Posted Feb. 11, 2010, at 11:48 p.m.

BREWER, Maine — There was obvious frustration on both sides of the fence over a zoning change request for a Brewer Housing Authority senior housing project, which was discussed at length at Tuesday’s City Council meeting, even though no action was taken.

Councilors tabled the zoning change at their Jan. 12 council meeting, saying they wanted to see the results of an investigation into whether any laws were broken — particularly the state’s conflict of interest law — when the land for the project was purchased.

When it came time on Tuesday to discuss the zoning change request needed for the $5.14 million, 32-unit senior housing project to move forward, councilors were split on whether to remove it from the table.

“I think it’s best if it stays on the table,” Councilor Larry Doughty said. “We have plenty of time. Until this investigation is done, I’m not supporting this motion.”

Councilor Jerry Goss, the council’s new liaison to the housing authority, said the project and the investigation are two separate issues and should be dealt with individually.

“To keep them locked together does not serve the interests of the citizens of Brewer,” he said, adding that there are more than 200 people on the housing authority’s waiting list for affordable housing.

The authority bought the 4.16-acre parcel at 259 Chamberlain St. on Oct. 7 from Calvin Bubar, who was the board’s chairman when the land purchase was being discussed. Bubar resigned in July before the purchase agreement was signed. The city hired James Cohen with the law firm Verrill Dana LLP in October to investigate the land purchase for any wrongdoing.

After Bubar refused an offer of $80,000, his land, which is valued by the city for property taxes at $88,000, was assessed using a commercial designation, which increased its value, according to housing authority Executive Director Gordon Stitham. Hooper Appraisal Services of Bangor assessed Bubar’s parcel as a commercial property at $260,000, and the housing authority paid $280,000 for it.

The plan is for the housing authority to operate the senior housing facility, and the social service agency Penquis to be the developer and build it. City planners in December approved site plans for a 13,700-square-foot, two-story senior rental property on the land with 32 units, four with two bedrooms and 28 single-bedroom apartments. They also approved changing the zoning from medium-density residential to high-density, required for the project to move forward.

Without the City Council’s approval of the zoning change and requested tax increment financing, it’s unlikely the project will get Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program funding, a letter from Penquis Executive Director Steven Mooers says.

The deadline for the 2010 credits is April 29, and this year the tax credit program includes a supplemental grant program funded with federal stimulus funds, the letter states.

“It is not expected that the supplemental grant program will be extended beyond 2010, so it has become extremely important that we file a strong application in the April round,” Mooers says in the letter.

Manley DeBeck said Penquis, which would build the project, has been told several times by city staffers that Brewer will not provide the project with tax-increment financing status.

“I don’t know how many ways you have to tell somebody no,” he said. “It’s not in our best inter to give out a 15-year TIF” for this project.

Goss responded by saying, “It’s my understanding that the project will move forward without Brewer’s TIF. What I’m trying to do is get the first roadblock out of the way.”

Councilors voted 2-2 about removing the item from the table, so it remained tabled until the next meeting, which is March 2. Councilor Joseph Ferris, who is Bubar’s attorney, did not vote on the matter.

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