Midcoast Habitat for Humanity has proposed a subdivision for Talbot Avenue in Rockland. Credit: Lauren Abbate / BDN

ROCKLAND, Maine ― The size of a proposed Midcoast Habitat for Humanity housing development has been reduced to lessen the effect the project would have on wetlands and stormwater runoff following concerns from neighbors.

The project’s developers have decreased the number of housing units from 18 to 13 proposed for an approximately 10-acre site on Talbot Avenue, with a mixture of duplexes and small homes.

While there is a need for affordable housing  in the region, neighbors have expressed concerns that the site on Talbot Avenue is not a suitable location given that a portion of the property is wetlands and there are existing stormwater problems in the area.

Representatives for the project say they have heard those concerns and have made adjustments to the proposal.

“There was a call for reduction in impervious areas. There was concern about stormwater management and wetlands, so we’ve lessened the project to make sure we’ve addressed all those concerns,” said Michael Sabatini, an engineer with Landmark Corporation Surveyors and Engineers, who is working on the Habitat for Humanity project.

Earlier this year, Rockland City Council approved a zoning change that was needed for the project to go forward. Sabatini submitted the official application for the Habitat subdivision last week.

The Rockland Planning Board will begin its review of the application at its meeting on Tuesday, though final approval is likely to be months away.

A site walk, public hearing and third party review of stormwater management plans for the project also need to take place before approval can be granted.

When the project was initially proposed last year, it included plans for eight approximately 500-square-foot one-bedroom homes and three duplexes, with a two-bedroom unit on one side and a three-bedroom unit on the other. Both the small homes and duplexes would be rental units managed by the Knox County Homeless Coalition. The proposal also included four single family homes which would be sold to qualifying Habitat for Humanity applicants.

In the revised plans, one of the duplexes, two of the small homes and one of the Habitat for Humanity homes have been eliminated, according to Sabatini, for a total reduction of five housing units.

A car drives by a sign saying “Save Firefly Field” in Rockland on Tuesday Sept. 7, 2021. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

With the proposed project site being located upstream from nearby Lindsey Brook ― which often floods during rain storms ― neighbors worry the addition of new structures and impervious surfaces could only worsen existing stormwater runoff problems in the area. Since about half of the approximately 10-acre parcel consists of wetlands, neighbors have also said that the site plays not just an important role in the absorption of stormwater, but creates a unique ecosystem that shouldn’t be disturbed. Neighbors refer to the property as “Firefly Field” because of the wildlife habitat that lives there.

Sabatini said the smaller project will have less effect on the wetlands. About 5,300 square feet ― or about two-percent ― of the total wetlands will be permanently impacted for the construction of a road. Another approximately 3,400 square feet will be temporarily impacted for the installation of a sewer line. This will require a wetlands permit from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

In addition to minimizing disruption to the wetlands portion of the property, Sabatini said stormwater runoff management practices will be implemented, including the use of a type of pavement that allows water to pass through it in parking areas and rain gardens with soil filters.

About 2.6 acres of the property drains toward Lindsey Brook, Sabatini said.

Since the project scope was reduced, it does not require a full stormwater management permit from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. However, Sabatini said they are still “doing more than DEP standards for the project as far as stormwater management.”

When the city council approved a zoning change to allow for the project to move forward earlier this year, it required that an independent review of the project’s stormwater management plan be conducted. The developers will have to pay for the study, but the city will choose the third party agency to conduct it.

“There will be a pretty exhaustive look at the stormwater management,” Rockland Code Enforcement Officer Wyatt Philbrook said.