June 21, 2018
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First Street apartment project gets initial approval from Bangor Planning Board

By Nick McCrea, BDN Staff

BANGOR, Maine — A 20-plus-unit apartment building planned for a troubled Bangor neighborhood got an early sign of approval from the city’s planning board this week. Developers say the workforce housing endeavor could be just the boost the area needs, but some residents worry more apartments will mean more of the same old problems.

During its Tuesday night meeting, the Bangor Planning Board voted to support a zone change for two parcels of land near the intersection of First Street and Davis Court. The zone change would allow for a more densely populated building on the site. That amendment still needs to be approved by the Bangor City Council at a future meeting.

Bangor Housing Development Corp., the development wing of Bangor Housing Authority, is spearheading the effort to build a new apartment building with up to 25 units. Executive Director Mike Myatt said the apartments will be geared toward working families.

The site has big advantages, Myatt said. It’s close to big employers such as Hollywood Casino and the Cross Insurance Center, entertainment offerings including Waterfront Concerts, a grocery store, Second Street Park, a bus route and the downtown.

The discussion about bringing in new housing began about two years ago, when the corporation’s leadership began discussing the “thriving energy downtown” and the need to provide “good quality housing stock for working families and individuals,” Myatt said.

Bangor Housing tore down six run-down apartment buildings at the site in December to clear the way for the project. The corporation purchased the properties for about $500,000 the summer before.

To move ahead with the zoning change, Bangor Housing Development Corp. sought to convince the planning board that the development would be consistent with the city’s Comprehensive Plan, which includes a 17-page section devoted to housing policies.

The plan states “there is a virtually unlimited need for adequate, affordable housing in Bangor that is not easily refuted” and that rezoning should be explored regularly to promote the development of needed housing types. The plan also talks about the need for more high-density housing stock near the city’s core to provide a place for “the typical middle-income family [that] must maintain two (or more) incomes in order to afford a lifestyle, including housing, which an earlier generation was able to maintain on one income.”

Andrew Hamilton, an attorney representing the corporation, said the plan “provides a superb argument” for why the development is needed. The planning board was convinced, backing the zone change, but some neighborhood residents remain unswayed.

Several homeowners in the area have been resistant to the project because they’re concerned that more apartments could be harmful to the area, or at least fail to help it rebound from its longstanding issues with drug abuse, crime and declining property values and conditions.

Stephen Hicks, a Second Street resident, asked the planning board to turn down the rezoning request on Tuesday night.

“The neighborhood has been on the decline,” Hicks said, arguing that one of the main reasons was an overabundance of rental properties and a lack of single-family homes.

He said he was happy to see the old, dilapidated apartments come down but worries that more rental properties on First Street won’t mitigate the problems residents have been facing for years.

Homeownership, he argued, “creates a different mindset for folks in general.” Several of his neighbors have aired similar concerns in the past.

“Ownership is what builds neighborhoods,” Hicks said.

The corporation explored arrangements in which the property would be developed into condos or single-family homes, but “the economics just weren’t there,” according to Myatt.

Myatt assured those who were concerned that “we’re responsible landlords” and that residents of the property would be encouraged to be active in the neighborhood, joining in community watch groups or participating in neighborhood events.

Exactly how many units the building would have depends on the breakdown of two- and three-unit spaces in the final design, which has yet to be ironed out, according to Myatt. The apartments would not be rent-subsidized but would be priced to accommodate some lower-wage earners, Myatt has said. For example, they would fall in the range of what starting teachers, police officers or employees of a Main Street business would be able to afford, he said.

Bangor Housing Development Corp. is a development wing of Bangor Housing Authority, a quasi-governmental agency that provides housing opportunities for low- to moderate-income households.

Initial plans called for two apartment buildings, one on each side of the street, for a total of 24 units. That plan has been revised to have just one building, closer to Second Street Park, and a parking lot on the other side of the street.

Designs are still fluid at this stage and could change prior to the final development proposal going before the planning board, Myatt added.

Follow Nick McCrea on Twitter @nmccrea213.


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