ORONO, Maine — Construction is under way on the first two duplex-style homes at Webster Point Condominiums, a new residential neighborhood going up on a former mill site where the Penobscot and Stillwater rivers meet.
The earthwork began last month and the builder has been pouring foundations, Town Planner Evan Richert said Tuesday.
Richert said that the project is a significant one for Orono on several levels.
“It means a lot to us because it was such a troubled property and such a liability,” Richert said, referring to the environmental cleanup that the town needed to tackle before the site could be redeveloped — not to mention the demolition of the long-vacant brick mill that once stood there.
Another problem was that the old mill, which had been empty since the early 1990s, deteriorated to the point where it became structurally dangerous and “was being used as a party place by all sorts of people,” Richert said. “The police got many calls on it. The town tried to board it up, to button it up, with only moderate success.”
“So coming to this arrangement with [project developer] Developers Collaborative was very important to us,” he said.
In addition to getting the property back on its tax rolls, the town also retained access rights to two scenic overlooks, one on the Stillwater and the other on the Penobscot, Richert said. He said that trails will be built to the two sites as the project moves ahead.
Webster Point will occupy the site of a former mill that was demolished late last summer amid much fanfare.
Kevin Bunker of Developers Collaborative said earlier that he initially hoped he could restore the old mill. Richert said that turned out not to be feasible because the property was contaminated with heavy metals and the building with asbestos.
The developer then opted to build one four-story building containing 24 condominium units, however, the project was reconfigured in May into a cluster of seven single-story duplexes because Webster Point wasn’t able to pre-sell the 12 units the bank required before it would finance the project.
To that end, the game plan is to build two duplexes, each separated by garage space, at a time, Richert said. That will allow Developers Collaborative to build the units as they’re sold.
Floor plans show that each duplex will consist of a larger unit with garage space for two vehicles and a smaller one with garage space for one vehicle.
The decrepit former Webster Mill building torn down in August of last year had been home to various companies for everything from a sawmill to a newspaper producer to a steel products manufacturer.
It most recently housed Striar Woolen Mill, which used the facility to recycle manufactured wool garments before it went out of business.