Senior housing complex proposed for Ellsworth

Posted Aug. 26, 2011, at 9:29 p.m.

ELLSWORTH, Maine — Local officials are considering a proposal for a new senior housing facility as part of the city’s effort to address the shortage of alternative housing options available to the region’s elderly residents.

Penquis Housing, a subsidiary of the Penquis community service agency, is seeking city approval for a 26-unit, affordable housing complex for senior citizens to be located in a residential neighborhood about a mile from downtown.

The Leonard Lake Senior Housing complex is proposed for an area of Ellsworth that is part of an ambitious redevelopment plan in which the city hopes to convert two former school properties into a mixed-use park and a senior citizen center.

But Penquis’ plan may face some opposition in the community based on the comments of some nearby property owners concerned about the how the sizable project could change the character of the quiet, tree-lined neighborhood.

Penquis Housing hopes to build a 22,600-square-foot building consisting of 22 one-bedroom units and four two-bedroom units on the corner of Shore Road and Wood Street. The lot is located near Leonard Lake and not far from Ellsworth Elementary-Middle School.

If approved, the project would be across the street from the large, multiuse park planned for the site of the former Knowlton School and near a new senior citizen center the city hopes to build in the former Moore School.

“It is sort of serendipitous that we are doing this project now,” Stephen Mooers, CEO of Penquis Housing, said Friday. “It is in harmony with the plans that the city of Ellsworth has.”

Ellsworth officials tentatively proposed selling 4 acres of city-owned land to Penquis for the project, although the sale has yet to be approved. Additionally, the city is considering offering the project a 20-year tax incentive package — equivalent to a 50 percent rebate on city taxes — in order to help the developer keep rents low.

City manager Michelle Beal said the city decided to work with Penquis on a project because demand far outstrips the supply of affordable housing for seniors who need it.

Many senior housing projects have lengthy waiting lists, and despite being a service center, Ellsworth only has one complex catering to elderly residents.

“Seniors are a demographic that need our help,” Beal said.

Penquis already has built four senior housing complexes in Bangor, Veazie and Lincoln. Mooers said a recent survey showed that the average age of their residents is 80 and the vast majority of tenants are women living alone.

Both Mooers and Beal said the Shore Road site was the only viable option in Ellsworth that provided enough space for a sizable development but was affordable. Mooers said that because the project would be partially funded through grants, Penquis Housing must locate developments near downtown areas and services in order to compete with projects for more urban areas in southern Maine.

But the size of the proposal appears to be causing consternation among some residents of the neighborhood.

Standing two stories tall and measuring 242 feet long by 56 feet wide, the complex clearly would stand out among the older homes — many built more than a century ago — in this quiet corner of Ellsworth.

During a public informational session with nearby property owners held Friday night, several residents expressed concerns that the project would “change the chemistry” of the neighborhood. They peppered Mooers with questions and comments about increased traffic on the little-used road, light pollution and the potential loss of stately trees that line the roads.

Despite Mooers’ assurances that the complex and its elderly residents would have minimal impacts on the neighborhood, several people suggested that Penquis and the city explore other areas of town better suited for a 26-unit apartment complex.

The project will be the subject of several meetings. On Friday, Sept. 2, the Board of Selectmen’s finance committee will discuss the potential sale of city-owned land to Penquis Housing, although a final decision must be made by the full board. And on Sept. 7, the planning board is expected to have preliminary discussions on the project.

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