Proposed Workforce Housing for Western Avenue in Augusta
AUGUSTA – The developer of Stevens Commons in Hallowell is launching a proposal to build a new 38-unit apartment building for workers on a neglected Western Avenue site where other developers have previously tried, but failed, to develop accommodations.
Construction company owner and real estate developer Matt Morrill recently gave Augusta city councilors a rough idea of his proposal for 99 Western Ave., in part to gauge their level of interest, as he and city officials predict the project will likely require a special contract area, which would need to be approved by councillors, to be built on the site.
Some councilors loved his proposal, saying it would bring much-needed new housing to the city and redevelop a long-neglected site where the current building, which would be demolished, sat vacant for a decade.
“When I first saw Mastway I was very excited because you have a great reputation in this area and you do a great job,” At-Large Advisor Heather Pouliot said of the proposal. Morrill, owner of Mastway Development. “It’s very high on our list of goals – workforce housing is one of our biggest needs, like all other types of housing. It’s definitely 35-40 units that we really need, and I think they will be filled in two days.
However, Ward 1 Councilor Linda Conti, whose ward includes this part of town, said she was already getting calls from neighbors at the site who are concerned about the proposal and its potential impact on their neighborhood. She said, in particular, neighbors were concerned that visitors to the proposed building would park on Pike Street, which is adjacent to the site. She also noted that the four-lane, heavily trafficked Western Avenue is a dangerous street to cross, saying she herself saw someone get hit and killed by a vehicle one winter.
“I don’t know what we could do to make this area safer,” Conti said when advisers discussed the proposal at their meeting last week. “I know there is a housing need. I don’t think it’s a great place to stay.
Morrill said each of the 38 units, which would be a mix of one-bedroom apartments and studios, would have its own parking space. He said he was sensitive to parking and neighborhood issues and said as soon as he put the building under contract to buy, he walked out and knocked on neighborhood doors.
“I think we’ve come up with a good plan that would suit the site. It will be a little less intrusive than some of the other proposals,” Morrill said. “Part of my business plan when taking on a project is to involve the community and try to take an overlooked property and make it an asset to the neighborhood.”
He said the target audience for the units would be workers. It would be developed with a MaineHousing program and would be limited to people earning no more than 60% of the area’s average income.
Morrill said rental rates would likely range between around $850 and just over $900 per month.
The proposal, which Morrill said will be submitted to the Augusta Planning Board for consideration in the coming months, is not the first to suggest redeveloping the site for housing.
In 2020, developer, real estate agent, and landlord Jim Pepin applied for waivers from certain city zoning requirements to build a new 50-unit seniors’ apartment building on the site. He withdrew his proposal after the Planning Board voted 2-3 against recommending a proposed contractual zoning agreement, which would have waived certain requirements of the two zoning districts that apply to the site.
Board members indicated at the time that they were concerned that the location on busy Western Avenue would be a good place to live for seniors and that the proposal did not provide enough parking. This proposal included 42 parking spaces, short of the zoning ordinance requirement of one parking space per unit.
Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Judkins said with some common sense that the previous draft could have been approved. But he expressed support for Morrill’s new proposal.
“We’re not going to solve our housing problem with one massive project or development, it’s going to be one structure at a time, one house at a time, and in this case 38 (apartments) – that’s fantastic,” Judkins said.
Morrill said his proposed project will likely require a contract area agreement with the city to provide exemptions to certain city zoning rules such as potentially, floor area ratios, impermeable surface coverage and a reduction in setback. required for the proposed new building.
Augusta and other areas of the state have experienced a shortage of available housing at all levels.
Keith Luke, director of economic development for the city, said 99 Western Ave. had been a problematic property and a target site for redevelopment since he started working for the city 10 years ago.
Protesters gather in Skowhegan to support abortion rights