WATERVILLE — The Planning Board on Monday voted unanimously to recommend the City Council rezone five acres at 172 Western Ave. to allow for construction of 28 apartments for low-income seniors in the former Mount Merici convent.

The property would be rezoned from Institutional to Residential-A if the council votes to rezone it.

Sean Thies, project manager and senior project engineer for CES Inc., of Brewer, said proposed changes to the site are minimal.

“We’re proposing a new driveway off Chase Avenue,” he said, adding that the current entrance off Western Avenue used by a nearby residential building for nuns would be used for emergencies only.

He said a garage on the property would also be removed as part of the project.

Neighbors in the area asked if there was adequate parking on the site. Thies said the city ordinance calls for one parking space per apartment unit.

“There are currently 35 spaces out there, all along the back side of the building here and along the side,” he said.

Western Avenue resident Larry Griffin asked how the developer, Merici Woods LP, would discourage people from using the emergency exit and entrance.

“We hadn’t given that a lot of thought,” Thies said. “The main entrance is intended off Chase Avenue.”

Planning Board Chairman Nick Champagne noted that Thies was at an informal preapplication review Monday and neighbors will be able to ask more questions when the project comes back to the board for site plan review.

“The decision tonight wouldn’t be the end of it,” Champagne said.

Planning Board member David Geller said the exit issue is a good point and that the developer should think about how to prevent people from using the current access to the building. There are ways to do that, including by using signs, according to Geller.

“That’s a legitimate concern,” he said.

The building for decades housed nuns from the Ursuline order, who founded Mount Merici Convent and Academy at the site in 1912. Joe Ponzetti of Housing Investment Fund told the City Council June 7 that the Waterville Housing Authority has an option to buy the five acres on the site. The Investment Fund is partnering with the Housing Authority on the project, he said.

In response to questions from Griffin, Judy Goodell of Waterville Housing Authority, which would manage the property, said low income tenants pay 30 percent of their income and to live in the building, they would have to have an income of about $18,000 a year. The rents are not subsidized, she said.

Maine State Housing determines rental amounts based on income limits set by the federal government, Goodell said.

Board member Jessica Laliberte made a motion to recommend that the City Council rezone the property. Member Bruce White seconded her motion. Planners voted 6-0 to recommend rezoning. Board member Mark Champagne was absent from the meeting.

Geller said he wanted to comment that his standard opposition to rezoning was not necessarily applicable in this instance because the property would be rezoned to a more restrictive zone if the council approves it.

“It doesn’t lessen the restrictions — it increases,” he said.

The Planning Board may only make recommendations regarding rezoning; the council makes the final decision.

In other matters, Stephen Mohr and Scott Strynar of Mohr & Seredin, landscape architects, of Portland, and Dale DeBlois, project manager at Colby College, answered questions about a proposal to build three athletic fields behind the Harold Alfond Athletic Center on Campus Drive on the campus. Mohr said Mohr & Seredin are the lead planners on the project and a whole host of consultants also are working on it.

An artificial turf field for soccer and lacrosse, a grass field for soccer and a practice field to be used for soccer and other sports are planned.

The fields would replace those farther west off Campus Drive and the project is part of a larger multi-year athletic complex project Colby plans to undertake that would include building a new athletic center on the west side of the biomass plant on Campus Drive. The current athletic center would be torn down after the new one is built, Colby officials said last week.

Mohr said the footprint for the fields is 19 acres, and about 9 acres of trees would be cleared. Between 30,000 and 32,000 yards of ledge and dirt would be excavated and placed in a field off Marston Road, he said.

The tricky part of the project is storm-water management, he said, adding that approval is required from the state Department of Environmental Protection for plans to address that issue. Mohr said he expects DEP approval in mid-August.

“It’s a nice, nice ball field layout, so it really meets the college’s needs,” he said.

Champagne asked if there is sufficient parking for the project.

“We’re looking at the 1,975 spaces we have to meet the parking demands,” Mohr said.

The board also approved minor revisions to a previously approved plan for Fieldstone Meadows at Fieldstone Landing proposed by Paul Lussier, a Planning Board member. He abstained from voting on the request.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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