February 15, 2020
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Despite neighbors’ objections, Bangor council OKs new zoning for affordable housing project

Charles Eichacker | BDN
Charles Eichacker | BDN
The Bangor City Council is considering rezoning two parcels of land off Milford Street Extension -- next door to the Mary Snow School -- so that Penquis could pursue an affordable housing development there.

A leading developer of affordable housing in the Bangor region is trying to create another housing development on about 5 acres of private land on Milford Street Extension, the short road that runs from Essex Street to the Mary Snow School.

On Monday night, the Bangor City Council unanimously approved rezoning two parcels on that road so various types of housing — including single family and multi-family — could be developed there. The zone change was sought by Penquis, an organization that has developed more than a dozen other affordable housing projects across eastern Maine.

The two plots on the sides of Milford Street Extension were previously zoned with a special contract condition that would allow them to be used for a medical office building. The city’s Planning Board unanimously voted to recommend the zoning change last week.

Before the councilors voted 9-0 in favor of the change, a few of them pointed to the city’s well-documented shortage of affordable housing. After a task force spent months researching the city’s housing market last year, one of its main recommendations was to produce more affordable housing

[Bangor’s housing problems have become ‘unacceptable.’ New report tells city to tackle them.]

“What I know we need in this state, and this city, and that we have repeatedly asked our staff to look at is more housing,” said Councilor Laura Supica, who was part of that task force.

But the change was opposed by some people who live along Milford Street Extension and nearby sections of Essex Street and Broadway, as well as by Principal Brian Bannen of the Mary Snow School. They raised concerns about the additional car traffic that a housing development could bring, particularly when students are arriving or leaving for the day.

Some of the residents also expressed concern that the change could reduce the market value of their properties and complained that the addition of housing would take away an open field in which kids have played.

“Why would the City Council support damaging the character of this neighborhood?” said Brett Landon, who owns a nearby home on Essex Street. “My kids affectionately call this land the butterfly field.”

One of the supporters of the change was Paul Brown, a Bangor attorney who represents the private owner of the land, Medimaine Real Estate Limited Partnership. Brown noted that the land’s owners are not obligated to keep it undeveloped just so it can be used by the public. He also said that the land was previously given a contract zone change to serve as a medical office building, but that no such developments ever came to fruition due to changes in the health care market.

Jason Bird, Penquis’ housing development director, said that the agency wants to work with the project’s neighbors to ensure that their concerns are heard and try to incorporate any improvements that they would like to see. For example, he said the organization would like to add a crosswalk at the intersection of Essex Street and Milford Street Extension.

“We pride ourselves on the properties we develop,” he said. “We pledge to work with neighbors to design affordable housing and to develop something not only we’re proud of, but that fits in the fabric of the community and neighborhood.”

Penquis will spend the next few weeks working with city officials to determine what kind of developments would be possible on the land. The group will need to receive additional approval from the city for any projects it hopes to develop there.

Given the concerns that neighbors had about traffic, City Engineer John Theriault said that Penquis will probably need to seek a traffic study during the next stages of the project.

 

Correction: An earlier version of this report misquoted Brett Landon.

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