May 27, 2018
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Former Bath nunnery eyed for transient housing

By Larry Grard, Times Record

BATH, Maine — A group looking to establish transient housing in a vacant downtown building inched forward with its plan Wednesday night.

Bath City Council Chairman David Sinclair said he would sponsor a request from HOMEtogether to operate a work-living home for up to 12 people at the old nunnery, a city-owned building at 2 Sheridan Road. The proposal would require, among other things, a zoning amendment.

Currently, the building is located in a C2 zone, which is for mixed commercial and residential use.

Once Sinclair was informed by city planner Andrew Beci that — with a $275 check from HOMEtogether — the Planning Board could proceed on the zoning change, Sinclair voiced his support.

“It sounds like the group at the very least has a charitable mission,” Sinclair said. “I’m willing to move forward with that sponsorship.”

Beci said that the check and Sinclair’s sponsorship will allow him to work with Betty King, who is spearheading the HOMEtogether effort.

King, who already has outlined the project to the Planning Board in writing, told the council that although the building contains asbestos, that should not prevent the project from going forward. Scott Davis, the city’s code-enforcement officer, informed her that none of the materials in the building represent a hazard to occupants unless they are removed, King said.

“Mr. Davis told us there’s no need to abate the materials,” King said. “The city would have to pay around $100,000 to abate those materials and tear [the building] down. I think that the reusing option is more attractive.”

HOMEtogether wants to provide room and board to homeless people in exchange for labor. At least one “responsible and trained” person, designated by the nonprofit, would live on the premises and operate as supervisor.

The group also must assure the city council that it will have sufficient cash flow for necessary repairs, including the roof, and operating costs. King said she hopes to have numbers for the council by the end of the month.

City solicitor Roger Therriault summarized the group’s task at hand.

“She should continue on a plan on how they will set this up, run the property and the financing,” Therriault said.

“I would also be interested in seeing the amount of neighborhood support,” said Councilor Meadow Merrill.

HOMEtogether is affiliated with Emmaus International, which has money available for projects. King is asking Emmaus to fund a new insulated roof at the building.

Later Wednesday night, the council tabled until June a request of $10,000 by Friends of Zorach Fountain to kick-start needed renovations at Library Park Pond.

Linda Woods, representing Friends of Zorach Fountain, revealed that between $275,000 and $300,000 will be needed for repairs to the pond, which is falling in on itself. The fountain is located within the pond.

“The Maine Arts Commission says that Zorach Fountain may be the finest piece of public art in the state,” Woods told the council. “The pond is critical.”

Woods also related that the Friends have accepted a plan from a landscape architect.

“It’s a stunning proposal,” she said. “We are in the very initial phase of starting up a capital campaign. I think the significance of the city commitment is enormous.”

Councilor Mari Eosco voiced support for the $10,000 commitment.

“Otherwise it would fall back to the city and therefore the taxpayers,”

Eosco said. “Ten thousand dollars would not only help, but would serve as a great incentive.”

“It’s a very important park,” Councilor Ruthe Pagurko added. “The park needs a lot of work, and I think we should do it.”

But the money would have to come from the city’s contingency fund, and that prompted concerns from Councilors Bernie Wyman and Andrew Winglass.

“I’m in favor of the project,” Wyman said, “but I’m not in favor of taking over 25 percent of the contingency this early.”

When Woods informed councilors there was no urgency on the town’s commitment, Councilor Kyle Rogers moved that the motion be tabled.

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