BAR HARBOR, Maine — A local college has decided to let a purchase-and-sale agreement involving a subsidized housing project for the elderly expire later this month, but school officials say they still are interested in buying the facility.
College of the Atlantic signed an agreement last fall with Harbor Hill Associates to buy Harbor Hill Estates, a 25-unit building on Highbrook Road within 1,000 feet of the main college campus. The college hopes to use the building for student housing, office and instruction space and had approached the town’s planning board to get permission to use the property, which is in a residential zone, for educational purposes.
The agreement has been criticized, however, by residents of the building who say they’ve been left in the dark about those plans and by government officials who say Harbor Hill Associates hasn’t gone through the proper process for selling the building, which requires notification to and approval of state and federal agencies.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture financed construction of Harbor Hill in the 1980s and holds the lease on the property.
Attempts last month and again on Tuesday to contact Pamela Gleichman, owner of Harbor Hill Associates, for comment on the agreement with COA have been unsuccessful.
COA officials have said that there have been several conditions placed on the sale transaction if it is to go through. Harbor Hill must get permission to withdraw the property from the USDA housing program, COA must get approval from the town to use the building for educational purposes, and new, acceptable housing must be found for the Harbor Hill residents.
The purchase-and-sale agreement includes a deadline later this month by which all those conditions must be fulfilled, however, and it doesn’t look like they will be, according to COA officials.
“The dates of the current contract simply cannot be met: they’re not tenable for the college and they’re certainly not tenable for the current residents — and those people have been at the center of our concern from day one,” COA president Darron Collins said in a statement released Monday. “As such, our board [of trustees] met on Jan. 26 and decided that we are going to let the current purchase and sale agreement expire on February 20th. We’ve informed the seller of those intentions.”
Collins was out of the country this week at a conference in Australia and could not be reached for additional comment.
COA spokeswoman Donna Gold said Tuesday that COA still is interested in acquiring the building and intends to require the same conditions for buying it that are in the agreement set to expire in about two weeks.
Whether that results in COA and Harbor Hill Associates signing another agreement soon after the current one expires has not been determined. Gold acknowledged that without having such an agreement in effect, Harbor Hill Associates could find a different buyer for the 1.7-acre property, though it still would have to comply with state and federal rules for withdrawing the property from the federal housing program.
Last June, Acadia Apartments, another local subsidized housing unit located on West Street Extension, was purchased by Ocean Properties, which owns and operates several hotel properties in Bar Harbor and elsewhere. Residents who lived at Acadia Apartments said last summer that they were told the hotel firm planned to use the development as employee housing.
Lee Estey, a resident of Harbor Hill who has been critical of the agreement between his landlord and the college, said Tuesday that he and his fellow tenants are “very pleased” that the college has decided to let the agreement expire. He said that given the complex array of approvals that would have to be obtained at the town, state and federal levels for changing the use of the property, he doesn’t think it is likely that COA will end up acquiring Harbor Hill.
“We’re thrilled. Everybody in the place has heaved a sigh of relief,” Estey said. “I don’t [expect to] see anything happening for years and years.”
Follow BDN reporter Bill Trotter on Twitter at @billtrotter.