Ellsworth senior housing complex gets green light

A rendering of the proposed Leonard Lake senior housing center in Ellsworth.
Courtesy of Penquis Housing
A rendering of the proposed Leonard Lake senior housing center in Ellsworth.
Posted Oct. 06, 2011, at 6:11 p.m.

ELLSWORTH, Maine — The Planning Board approved plans Wednesday night for a 26-unit apartment complex that will offer low-cost housing to senior citizens.

Planning board members voted 3-2 to approve Penquis Housing’s plan for a 22,600-square-foot building to be built on roughly 3 acres of land on the corner of Wood Street and Shore Road near Leonard Lake.

Last month, the Ellsworth City Council had agreed to sell two acres of wooded, city-owned land to Penquis Housing — a subsidiary of the Penquis community service agency — for $30,000 for the project.

A number of would-be neighbors to the facility have voiced their concerns about the project’s size and location in a quiet, tree-lined neighborhood comprised largely of older, single-family homes. The site where the complex would be built also abuts a trail cutting through the city’s wooded tract that includes frontage along Leonard Lake.

Although planning board members did not make any major changes to the application, they did attach a list of conditions intended to address some of the concerns raised by neighborhood residents.

For instance, the amended plan requires Penquis build a riprap, or stone, wall on the part of the property closest to Leonard Lake and the trail. Penquis’ original plans called for a grassy slope but several neighbors said a riprap wall would allow the developer to keep more trees closer to the trail.

The board also required Penquis to repair any future damage caused to the trail from stormwater runoff — despite the architectural firm’s assurances that the project’s drainage system would handle any runoff — and to work with one neighbor when selecting a fence and landscaping.

Mark Honey, a local historian and member of the Ellsworth Historic Preservation Commission, told the board that the multi-unit residential building slated for demolition as part of the project reflects the architecture style of the 1830s and 1840s. He urged Penquis to incorporate Greek revival or other architectural styles found in the neighborhood into the new building.

“I think it is important sometimes to understand what we are losing in a project like this,” Honey said. “We are losing a piece of Ellsworth history.”

Stephen Mooers, CEO of Penquis Housing, pledged to “do our best” within the firm’s tight budget to build a complex that blends well into the surrounding neighborhood.

The project has received strong support from Ellsworth officials, who maintain that the city has a dearth of alternative housing options for lower-income seniors.

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