WATERVILLE — The City Council on Tuesday took a last vote to approve a tax increment financing district and related development plan for a $25 million, 100,000 square-foot mixed-use residential complex for Colby College at 150 Main St. downtown.
The vote represents the final step in approving the project, which has been several months in the planning.
“This vote tonight is the final green light for the project to move forward,” City Manager Michael Roy said before the meeting.
The five-story building at the northeast tip of The Concourse would house 200 students, faculty and staff involved in a special civic engagement curriculum. They would live in 52 apartments on the upper floors and the ground floor would house retail, as well as a glassed-in forum space that may be used by not only Colby, but also by the city, nonprofit organizations, businesses and other entities.
The council’s 4-1 vote with two abstentions allows the developer to break ground in six to eight weeks — a schedule necessary to ensure occupancy can occur in August 2018, according to Paul Ureneck, director of commercial real estate for both Colby and Elm City LLC, an affiliate of Colby.
Councilor Nick Champagne, R-Ward 5, was the lone dissenter in the vote. Councilors Lauren Lessing, D-Ward 3, and Winifred Tate, D-Ward 6, abstained from voting on the TIF, saying they are Colby employees.
Council Chairman Steve Soule conducted the meeting in the absence of Mayor Nick Isgro, whose father-in-law died unexpectedly Monday. Councilor Sydney Mayhew, R-Ward 4, asked for a moment of silence for Isgro and his wife, Amanda.
Mayhew urged councilors to approve the TIF for the Colby complex, saying the project represents great momentum for economic development downtown and will encourage private investment and increased population density. The decision, he said is the most “businesses-smart decision” the council could make.
“I am pleasantly in support of this,” Mayhew said.
At Roy’s recommendation, the council also voted to postpone until March 21 taking a final vote to amend the existing downtown TIF district to remove 150 Main St. from that district, so as to allow for the new TIF district for the building. He explained that postponing the vote would not affect approval of the separate TIF for the residential complex. The postponement was necessary to allow time for a required public hearing to be held March 21 prior to a council vote on the TIF amendment, according to Roy. He said before the meeting Tuesday that the postponement also would not affect the construction schedule.
Roy said at the meeting that both TIFs need state approval; and most of the time, that approval is perfunctory or about rubber-stamping.
“But it is required that the state approve it, so we’ll get it there as soon as we can,” he said.
The council last year voted to sell the property, located at the corner of Main and Appleton streets, to Colby for $300,000 on the condition that if the property becomes tax-exempt, the college would make payments in lieu of taxes. On Feb. 7 the council voted to amend that original agreement to delete the condition and allow collection of future property taxes through a TIF district. While the upper floors would be tax-exempt, the first floor where retail will be located would be taxable. The city’s method for assessing the tax value of that floor retail would yield about $36,000 in taxes but as part of the TIF agreement, Colby plans to pay money in lieu of taxes totaling $65,000 a year.
The city has signed a purchase and sale agreement to sell the 0.77-acre lot to Colby for $300,000, and the deed is expected to change hands later this week, according to Roy.
The Planning Board on Monday voted 5-1 to approve a site plan for the complex, which requires 52 parking spaces for students and staff members living in the building. Planning Board member Jessica Laliberte was the lone dissenter, and member Lauren LePage was absent from that meeting.
Approved as part of that vote was a request to waive a requirement that 45 parking spaces for retail on the first floor be within 300 feet of the building. Officials said a special parking committee working on a parking management strategy for the downtown would work to resolve parking issues expected to arise as the downtown grows.
Meanwhile, the 52 parking spaces required for those living in the complex are on a Colby-owned lot on Appleton Street where the former Waterville Elks building was demolished last year.
Colby officials say there will be an incentive for students living in the complex to park their vehicles at Colby’s main campus on Mayflower Hill Drive. Colby shuttles also will go to and from the downtown complex to Colby about every 15 minutes.
The Colby project is one of several the college is undertaking downtown totaling more than $45 million as part of its efforts to help the city revitalize the downtown. Colby also plans to build a 42-room boutique hotel on the former Levine’s clothing store lot at 9 Main St. and is renovating the former Hains building at 173 Main St. for more than $5 million. CGI Group employees now housed at the Hathaway Creative Center are expected to move into the upper floors of the Hains building once it is completed this summer.
The four- and six-bedroom apartments in the building for students at 150 Main St. will have full kitchens and common living areas. There will also be two-bedroom apartments for faculty members and one-bedroom units for resident assistants.
The architect, Ayers Saint Gross, of Baltimore, Maryland, designed the building, and the construction manager for the project is Landry/French Construction Co., of Scarborough.
In other matters Tuesday, the council named George and Betty Whitten the 2017 Spirit of America Volunteers of the Year for what it described as long and selfless service to residents and Waterville schools.
The Whittens have devoted many hours as volunteers to student athletes at Waterville Senior High School, with George Whitten serving as equipment manager for more than 20 years for football, baseball, softball and hockey, according to the proclamation Soule read aloud Tuesday. Betty Whitten supported George in those efforts, attending as many sporting events as she could, Soule said. The couple continued to serve as security officers for the high school long before they formally ended their full-time volunteer roles and served as excellent role models for thousands of high school students by showing them that volunteer work can be extremely satisfying and important for the community, Soule said.
George Whitten was given a certificate of proclamation and his wife was given a bouquet of flowers. They received a standing ovation from the audience.
Councilor Nathaniel White, D-Ward 2, said the amount of respect he has for the Whittens is inexplicable and the award was long overdue. He handed George Whitten a bottle of Moxie, a drink he said Whitten loves.
“You will not meet anyone more kind and humble than these two people,” White said, drawing applause.
Roy also praised the couple, saying the award really is a MVP award and the most valuable players, obviously, for this year, are the Whittens.
“They exemplify what a true volunteer is,” Roy said. “George and Betty, thank you both.” Councilors also took the first of two needed votes to amend the zoning ordinance so as to replace the screening requirements in the Industrial Park Zone with those in the General Industrial Zone. The change would help attract a new business to the former Wyandotte building at 977 West River Road, owned by Trafton Properties, Inc.
The Planning Board on Monday voted 6-0 to recommend that councilors approve the change, which would allow Trafton to provide more than an acre of fenced-in, outdoor storage for finished and semi-finished building materials on an existing paved area and lease the remainder of the space in the building, according to City Planner Ann Beverage. The property owner would install a landscaped buffer along the Trafton Road side of the storage area, she said.
Amy Calder — 861-9247