WATERVILLE — City Council on Tuesday reconsidered a vote it took May 3 to reject a request to rezone 8 Highwood St. so it could become housing for the city’s most vulnerable population, voting this time unanimously to approve the rezoning.
But council must hold a second vote to finalize the rezoning and at least two councilors, Mike Morris, D-Ward 1, and Rick Foss, R-Ward 5, made it clear at Tuesday’s special meeting that they were voting for approve only to have a discussion with neighborhood residents who are concerned about the project.
Councilor Tom McCormick, an independent who represents Ward 7, said last week he regretted rejecting the proposal to rezone the property because the housing was so badly needed, and he asked for the matter to be reconsidered .
The Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter wants to buy the vacant Highwood Street building. and turn it into apartments for the elderly and disabled adults with families, with some temporary emergency units for the homeless. Rezoning is necessary to do this. The Planning Board voted 7-0 on April 26 to recommend council rezone the site.
The city council voted 4-3 on May 3 to approve the rezoning, but it requires a supermajority vote of at least five councilors to pass. It also requires two council votes, and only one could be taken that night.
The request having failed, there was not to be a second vote. However, the city charter allows such a question to be heard again if at least one councilor who voted on the dominant side requests reconsideration, which McCormick did.
The homeless shelter’s executive director, Katie Spencer White, said a quick rezoning is needed for the project to move forward as deadlines must be met for Maine Housing Authority funding and the shelter. wouldn’t buy the building if the property wasn’t rezoned.
People would be carefully selected before they could live in the building, which would be monitored 24/7. White said the Colby Street homeless shelter is a low-barrier shelter that allows people with serious mental illnesses, drug addicts and criminal histories. It is important that families with children are not housed in the same building and the shelter has long sought to develop a safe place where older people can be safely housed with families and children, according to White.
Council Chair Rebecca Green, D-Ward 4, and Councilors Flavia DeBrito, D-Ward 2, Thomas Klepach, D-Ward 3, and Claude Francke, D-Ward 6, voted May 3 to approve the rezoning, but McCormick joined Morris and Foss in voting against.
Morris, in whose neighborhood the project is proposed, said he thinks the project is good but the location isn’t and he represents those who don’t want it in their neighborhood and don’t think that their needs were met.
Some people on Tuesday raised concerns about increased traffic and noise resulting from such a development and wanted to know if there would be increased police protection in the now quiet neighborhood where patrols are little needed.
Green cited the great need for housing.
“Thank you, Councilman McCormick, for reconsidering and allowing us to have this conversation again,” she said. “It’s really important to have. Communities across the state have it and the country, in fact, as we face a housing crisis.
Waterville, she said, has 53% renters versus 47% owner-occupied housing and rental prices are very high and getting worse, she said. The Highwood Street project is very important and the vacant building would be difficult to rehabilitate with private funding, she said. The city has 77 vacant buildings representing around 100 housing units or more, she added.
After Brian Watson, chairman of the shelter’s construction committee, reported that an engineer and contractor had determined the building was suitable for redevelopment, McCormick said that in his neighborhood people were being evicted from buildings being rebuilt. sale and they didn’t know where they were. are going to leave because there are no more rental units in the service. McCormick said he needed to look at the bigger picture regarding housing need and that the Highwood Street development would fill a need.
“We’re losing right now – we’re not winning,” he said. “That would be a win.”
The discussion focused on a comment someone made in earlier meetings about people living in the Highwood Street apartment block being able to see through the windows of a neighboring house. Watson said no decision has been made, but the third floor of the building may not have apartments.
Preliminary plans call for the College Avenue side of the building to be developed in a first phase, which would include the development of approximately 12 apartments. Shelter officials couldn’t answer some questions about the project because it’s too early in the process.
Planning Board chairwoman Samantha Burdick said there were several public hearings on the rezoning proposal, which were not rushed, contrary to what some people have claimed. She said the building, vacant for about 10 years, was most recently an office building, but before that it was used for housing. It was built as a nursing college and became vacant after World War II, then nuns moved in until the MaineGeneral took over the building as temporary office space, according to Burdick, who said this is how ownership in a residential area became a contract. A zoned site. Rezoning would make it residential, she said.
Several others have spoken out in support of the scheme, saying there is a critical need for housing and councilors should consider the needs of all residents, including the most vulnerable.
“I totally support this effort,” said resident Nancy Sanford. “For me, if we can give the elderly, the poor and the homeless families a place to live, why not?”
White invited community members to provide input on what the development would include and said she encouraged residents to sit on a committee to address concerns and make decisions.
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