ORONO, Maine — There are four identified vernal pools and a popular cross country skiing trail on the forested land at the end of Washburn Drive where New York-based Park 7 Group wants to build a 270-unit student housing complex.
Local residents and Orono Land Trust members at Wednesday night’s planning board meeting said they are concerned about the wildlife breeding grounds, which they say are home to salamanders, fireflies and other creatures, and about the trail that now cuts through the approximately 45-acre parcel. The land connects a trail on the Orchard Trails subdivision land to the south to the Piney Knoll Conservation Area to the north.
The Avenue at Orono project’s site plan is a clustered subdivision consisting of 270 single and multi-bedroom apartments, ranging from efficiencies to five-bedroom units, that are expected to house between 850 and 925 students.
Park 7 has hired WBRC Architects and Engineers of Bangor to design the project. Landscape architect Paul Brody and engineer Paul Monyok started Wednesday’s public hearing on the major site plan answering questions brought up when the preliminary site plan was presented.
Changes have been made in the project’s scope to address replacing the trail, and avoiding identified vernal pools and wetlands, he said.
“The current plan of 270 units … that’s eight to 10 [units] down from what we originally looked at,” Brody told planners.
He said the design team has met with Orono Land Trust members in an attempt to create a trail that everyone will be happy with.
Jim Hinds, Orono Land Trust president, said at the meeting that he appreciates the developers working with the conservation group, but he still has concerns about where the trail will be located.
“The trail proposed in the development runs behind buildings and across a parking lot … and it won’t allow skiers to use the trail” without having to remove their skis, he said.
An “extremely high number” of salamanders breed in the vernal pools on the proposed development site and Hinds is afraid that they will be “boxed in” by the new multi-story buildings.
Several residents and Town Planner Evan Richert spoke at the public hearing, which was continued to the next meeting, scheduled for April 16. After the hearing is closed, planners will decide if the project can move forward to final plan review.
If approved, the new complex will be larger than The Grove, which opened in September 2012 and has approximately 200 units with room for 620 tenants.