BANGOR, Maine — Penobscot Community Health Care’s contentious bid to expand its Hope House facility took a step forward Monday night when the City Council gave the city the go-ahead to execute lease documents with the agency.
The heavily modified lease is part of a drawn-out effort by PCHC to use a $1.8 million grant to build an extension to connect two buildings at the Indiana Avenue facility. The addition would allow the facility to create more space for transitional housing — doubling it from 24 beds to 48.
Originally, the agency hoped to increase its tenant capacity, but people in the neighborhood raised concern about Hope House residents, resulting in a lengthy series of concessions to move the project along, according to Lori Dwyer, general counsel for PCHC. After several meetings with the council, committees and residents, the lease was amended to include a number of compromises. PCHC agreed in its lease to:
• Maintain its current capacity after the expansion by reducing the number of people allowed in the emergency shelter.
• Limit the number of registered sex offenders living at the facility to seven, which is the current number of sex offenders living in the Hope House’s emergency shelter and transitional housing.
• Pay $1 of rent per year and a payment in lieu of taxes of 30 percent of the assessed value of the facility, which would be roughly $6,000 to start and would increase after construction of the addition.
• Contribute a minimum of $5,000 to the University of Maine at Augusta Bangor campus for repairs to a fence on the Union Street side of the campus’ property.
During Monday night’s meeting, councilors and a member of the public asked whether PCHC would be willing to work toward eliminating registered sex offenders altogether. Dwyer said that would have to be a board decision.
Councilor Patricia Blanchette raised concerns that such a move might put more sex offenders out on the street and could potentially put people at risk.
“I am always more comfortable if I know where [sex offenders] are,” Blanchette said.
The council voted 7-2 in favor of allowing the city to move ahead with the Hope House lease. Councilors Pauline Civiello and James Gallant voted in opposition.
Also during Monday’s meeting, the council authorized city staff to negotiate to extend its agreement with Waterfront Concerts for another five years beyond the five-year extension it approved in July 2012. That would extend the series’ foothold in the Queen City into 2021.
Promoter Alex Gray said before Monday’s meeting that the extension would allow Waterfront Concerts to spread out its payments for a permanent stage planned for the waterfront.
Spread over 10 years, the costs of that permanent stage would cost less than the leasing of the previous stage for that same period. Gray said the stage construction would be a seven-figure project, but he didn’t have an exact dollar amount.
“We’ll be able to accommodate the biggest acts in the world,” Gray said.
Councilor Pauline Civiello voted against the motion, citing concerns that competition between Waterfront Concerts shows and events at the soon-to-open Cross Insurance Center might jeopardize the new arena’s chances of success. The rest of the council voiced emphatic support for Waterfront Concerts, citing its $30 million impact to the local economy over the past three years.
Several councilors argued that the two entertainment venues would collaborate to ensure their mutual prosperity.
“This is like having a Burger King next to a McDonald’s, they help each other,” Gallant said, adding that “this adds another piece to [Bangor’s] entertainment corridor.”
Gray said construction on the new stage would begin in early May.
In other business at Monday’s meeting, the council held first readings of:
• Code changes that would define emergency shelters and transitional housing and zoning ordinances that would conditionally allow such facilities in Government and Institutional Services Districts. Those questions were referred to the Planning Board.
• An item regarding the $3 million library roof replacement bond voters will approve or deny in the June election. A public hearing on the bond question will be held during the April 8 City Council meeting. That loan could add a little more than 7 cents to the mill rate, according to city officials.
• A city code amendment that would restrict sex offenders from living within 750 feet of a public property where children are primary users.