ORONO, Maine — The Town Council at a public hearing Monday continued to move ahead with plans to build 24 upscale condominiums in place of the dilapidated Webster Mill building that overlooks the Penobscot River.
In recent weeks, the council voted to help finance the project by creating a tax increment financing district, a commonly used measure that would allow the town to leverage taxes in order to offset the retail costs of the condos. But under state law, according to acting Town Manager Maria Weinberger, Orono first must establish the region as an affordable housing development district, which would make a third of the units, in this case eight, affordable to median-income owners.
In doing so, the council heard public comment on the matter at its meeting Monday and afterward unanimously authorized an application that will be sent for approval to the Maine State Housing Authority, the state entity in charge of determining whether such an area can be designated as an affordable housing development dis-trict.
“This has been a very multistep process and it’s taking time for us to go through all the motions,” said Weinberg. “But it’s a great move for the town; when it’s all said and done Orono will go from zero tax dollars on this property to generating tax dollars.”
Though only two residents were in attendance Monday, they questioned why the property wasn’t being developed as a business. Councilors explained that because there were no parties interested in taking that route, they had Portland-based Developers Collaborative, who recommended the property be developed as housing, sign an option agreement with the town granting exclusive rights to purchase it within two years.
Additionally, town planner Evan Richert said Developers Collaborative would finance the majority of the project, to within $900,000, which the town potentially could pay if the tax incrementing finance district is established. The council expects to hear back from the Maine State Housing Authority by the end of March, at which point it will vote on whether to budget for the project.
“This is a great opportunity for the town of Orono,” said Councilman Mark Haggerty. “And I’m very impressed with how far the town has come with it thus far. I’d like everyone here to know we’re looking forward to moving ahead in this process.”