WATERVILLE — A plan to transform a former convent off Western Avenue into affordable senior housing got a boost Tuesday from the City Council, which took a first vote to approve a tax district and related development plan for the project.

Merici Woods Redevelopment wants to put 28 apartments in the former convent, with an access road from Chase Avenue.

Diane Townsend, director of the Waterville Housing Authority, which represents the developing authority working on the project, said at a public hearing before the vote that the housing authority was approached to develop the convent by Ursuline Sisters officials. The religious order also runs the adjacent Mount Merici Academy. The project is in the planning stages and there are a lot of financing matters to figure out, she added.

The developer asked the city’s tax increment financing committee for a 75 percent reimbursement as part of the tax increment financing district to help pay for operating costs for the project over a 30-year period, but the committee thought a maximum of 20 years with a 50 percent return was more appropriate, Townsend said.

The project would use historic tax credits to help develop the property, she said. The ownership entity for the project is a for-profit one and would stay that way for 15 years, after which it would become nonprofit; however, the property would remain a tax-paying entity. Townsend said the efficiency apartments would rent for $550 to $560 a month and the one- and two-bedroom units, for up to about $750 a month. Councilors voted 6-1 Tuesday to approve the TIF and related development plan and must take one more vote Sept. 5 to finalize approval.

Council Chairman John O’Donnell, D-Ward 5, was the lone dissenter. After the council voted unanimously to designate the tax district for 20 years, O’Donnell and Councilor Nathaniel White, D-Ward 2, sought to allow a 50 percent reimbursement but were outvoted 5-2. Then the council voted 6-1 to increase it to 75 percent over 20 years, with O’Donnell opposing the term.

Meanwhile, Mayor Nick Isgro, who lives near the former convent, said that if it is not developed, it will not be used.

“The options really are, the project moves forward or the building just moves into further decay,” Isgro said.

He said a TIF allows the city to capture additional tax revenue and shelters value from the county so the city does not pay more county taxes. If a property value increases, that reduces school subsidy, he said.

City Manager Michael Roy said the project is important, as it would mean an old building would be reused and put on the tax rolls.

In other matters Tuesday, councilors voted unanimously to lease 9,450 square feet to Black Bear Aviation at the city-owned Robert LaFleur Airport for an additional area for aircraft tie-downs. Black Bear uses the main hangar at the airport.

The council approved a natural gas easement for 10 Temple Court and adjacent buildings so they may be served by Summit Natural Gas. Councilors voted to refer to the Planning Board for recommendation a request to rezone property on West River Road from Residential-B to Institutional so Thomas College may expand operations in the future. They also approved a food license for Firehouse Subs at 8 Waterville Commons Drive, food and liquor licenses for Holy Cannoli at 72 Main St., and special amusement, food and liquor licenses for Club 656 at 30 Elm Plaza, in the former Champions Fitness Club building.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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