GARDINER — One hundred feet of land.

The final decision to sell one of four blighted parcels in downtown Gardiner rested on 100 feet of land.

With a great deal of debate, consideration and more debate, the City Council on Wednesday voted to sign an option agreement conveying the entire parcel at 24 Summer St. to Developers Collaborative, the Portland-based firm that city officials are working with to develop a medical arts building at 1 Summer St. The principals at Developers Collaborative have expressed their interest in developing affordable senior housing at 24 Summer St., which also borders Cobbosseecontee Stream, and gave a presentation earlier this year to the City Council on what such project might look like.

The decision was difficult because Jack Skehan, whose tax preparation business is on Bridge Street just east of and below 24 Summer St., had signaled his interest in a 100-foot strip of land that abuts his own.

City councilors spent nearly an hour and forty-five minutes behind closed doors hashing over the proposed sale and the better part of an hour in open session debating the merits of one alternative over another. Much of the debate centered around the wording in a so-called good neighbor clause.

In the minds of some councilors, they were weighing the interests of a longtime Gardiner businessman against those of a newcomer who will rely on a competitive funding process to secure financing to build the project.

“I’m concerned for Jack,” said Councilor Phil Hart, District 4. “He’s never asked the city for anything, and he’s built his business here.”

Hart proposed having the city keep the 100-foot strip in reserve to sell to either Developers Collaborative or to Skehan, depending on who needs it at some future point.

Part of that concern stems from the uncertainty about what changes along Bridge Street will be imposed when the Maine Department of Transportation rebuilds the bridge. If the bridge and roadway are widened, Skehan could lose some land along the front of his property. That project is scheduled for 2018.

At the same time, Developers Collaborative has not undertaken design work on its project, which will consist of market-rate and affordable units, so its members can’t say with certainty what the best design for a building on that site would be.

Hart’s proposal didn’t prove popular.

“As a steward of the city’s assets, I think if we sell 1 foot or 100 feet, we devalue the rest of the property, and that does a disservice to the city of Gardiner,” District 1 Councilor Terry Berry said.

Another option, to flesh out the terms of the good neighbor clause, also was set aside.

Mike Lyne, chief operating officer of Developers Collaborative, said he couldn’t agree to language developed at the meeting.

“I can quickly look at my schedule and tell you this could take another month,” he said. “This document has already been batted back and forth. I think it’s worth reading section e: ‘Grantee shall work in good faith with neighbors on parking solutions that may be needed in the event of a taking by the State of Maine for road frontage as part of the upcoming bridge reconstruction project on adjacent property.’ It feels specific as I read it here today. I will say that we will honor this.”

But Skehan was not reassured.

“Mike’s got all aces and I’ve got all deuces,” he said; a four-of-a-kind is a winning hand, but aces beat twos. He suggested he could buy the land and be a good neighbor to Developers Collaborative.

Patrick Wright, the city’s economic development coordinator, said he has full faith that Skehan’s needs will be accommodated.

Five councilors voted to approve granting the option to Developers Collaborative. Hart and Councilor Maureen Blanchard, who serves at-large, voted against it.

In putting the issue before the council, City Manager Scott Morelli declined to recommend the proposal, on procedural grounds.

“There’s a need for affordable housing in Gardiner and I support that, and Developers Collaborative has a good reputation,” Morelli said. “I thought we should have, like with the other corner lot, bid it out and see what other offers come in. This may be the best offer, but we may never know.”

Proceeds of the sale of this lot probably won’t go to city coffers. Under an agreement struck with the T.W. Dick creditors over the fate of three of the four parcels owned by the former steel fabricating company, including 24 Summer St., city officials have committed that in exchange for being allowed to foreclose on and take possession of the parcels to secure brownfields cleanup grants, any money cleared after city expenses are paid will be split among the creditors however they deem fit.

Under the agreement, Developers Collaborative is securing its option with $1. It has two years to exercise its option. Once it’s triggered — by either the brownfields cleanup or securing the tax credits from the state needed to build a such as project — the purchase price of $69,999 will be paid. Developers Collaborative also is expected to seek a credit enhancement agreement from the city to make its application more competitive.

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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